Building on the first flush of success is never easy. For Braids, the critical acclaim heaped on 2011's Native Speaker led to a Polaris Music Prize nomination and nearly two years of constant touring, a schedule that left its mark in more ways than one. "Being on the road makes everything too close," singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston recently told The Fly. "Sometimes you need distance and perspective to understand what you have, and we didn't really allow ourselves that break." The consequence was keyboardist Katie Lee walking out sometime last year, her departure leaving the sort of painful void that's inevitable having been together as a band since high school.

You can forgive them then for unease being the dominant thread running through Flourish // Perish, Standell-Preston weighed down by bitter recriminations and nagging self-doubt, the suffocating burden of responsibility wrapped around her like a cloak. Even that title; a cursory listen to the ten tracks here reveal it to be not a statement but a question, a musing as to what their reaction to adversity will be. How Braids go about answering it is the most fascinating aspect here, twisting and turning through hope and inner turmoil, wrestling with who they are and what they want to be.

Internal ructions were caused by a move away from the four pillars of their indie roots - guitar, keyboards, drums and bass - to a more electronic canvas; in their words, "we had to give up a lot of playing." Citing Portishead, Kid A-era Radiohead, and Aphex Twin – "the Mozart of our time" according to Standall-Preston – as major influences, Flourish // Perish displays the same heavy reliance on loops and drones as its predecessor, but pulled into sharper relief. It's a more focussed listen; songs don't meander quite so dreamily, details are easier to pinpoint. Clearly, ditching six strings for synths has honed their compositional skills.

The album is split, both thematically and sonically, neatly in two; the first five tracks comprise Flourish, the rest, Perish. The opening half skips along with a loose, nostalgic optimism, full of chimes, staccato notes, and bustling drum patterns. "A beautiful three / Their roots extending / I hope forever / Happily" she sings on 'Victoria' as it builds through pitch shift synths to a lazy, warm crescendo. Such positivity is soon replace by a more doubtful tone, even as the music - the pitter patter of math inspired 'Fruend', the twinkling piano and soft background wash of 'Girl' - continues to gently caress.

Gone are the yelps and shrieks that drew (false) comparisons to Joanna Newsom, replaced by a measured, at times almost weary, delivery. Happy to mine her own uncertainty and face reality, Standall-Preston's lines are softly cooed with grace and style, self-deprecating barbs cutting with the precision of scalpel while still hitting like an iron fist. Rhetorical questions are left hanging everywhere; by halfway she's already asked "What am I living for?" - "Is there life after goodbye?" and "He is so carefree / Why can I not be?" It's all a far cry from the whimsy of their debut, where sex and romance soaked lines about "having you inside me" and "all I really wanna do is love" poked through the sparkle.

By the second half, the music doesn't so much catch up to all this anxiety as plough head first into it; 'Together' opens with a nervous, jittery beat laid over bursts of static, before an unsettling drone slowly comes into focus. Tracks here are longer, but stripped to their bare bones - some are little more than percussive loops with vocals - sharpening lines like "Breakdown / Painted on my face." This effect is cathartic, as if by peeling away the layers they hope to reveal some true essence of themselves, or at least shed the pain. It's most apparent on 'Amends', the angriest song here and one that swings between defiance and blame; "We have come so far / Don't throw this" she pleads, before admitting "She's thrown it."

Together with 'Juniper', it's the most experimental thing here, clearly influenced by that love for Richard James. They'll also be familiar to anyone aware of Standell-Preston's side project Blue Hawaii, who released the criminally underappreciated Untogether earlier this year, as both share that album's glitchy beats, chopped'n'screwed vocal effects, and glacial minimalism. It's a style they wear well, and none of the introspection affects the beauty of what Braids do, or how well they do it. They may be painting from a darker palette, but Flourish // Perish is no less captivating or wondrous; it still burrows down into the soul. It's a defiantly human album, depth and nuance adding satisfying layers to an already intriguing band. Bruised, hurt, and a member down, they've weathered the storm, the magic still intact.