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Music to Read and Write to: Plaid

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In the fall of 2011, British electronic duo Plaid released Scintilli, their first studio album since 2003. Since the early 90s, band members Andy Turner and Ed Handley have been at the forefront of experimental techno, a genre known as “Intelligent Dance Music”.

Along with Aphex Twin, Autechre, Plastikman, and Squarepusher, the group ushered in a heyday for abstract beats and knob tweaking. During the late 90s, while the rave scene was still in decent shape, my friends and I would go to various underground clubs. Unless it was a party with multiple rooms, dance tracks dominated the sound system.

I was never big into dancing but I did get pretty good: I ran in place wearing big pants, I could make an invisible ball with my hands, and my glow stick technique was better than most. But techno and house were always second best to jungle and IDM. Rightly or wrongly, I felt the latter were more sophisticated. Jungle was intricate; it had rolling basslines and complex breaks. IDM got in your head and messed with it. For me, it was music without reference, something completely new.

Out of the bands that made up this marginalized group of IDMers, Plaid was the most melodic. Aphex Twin was dark and grating, close to industrial. The tracks could easily get under your skin. Autechre, too, was tough. They weren’t so much rhythmic as they were a methodical outburst of noise. I admired Plastikman’s minimalism, and Squarepusher’s jazz background gave him esteem, but they weren’t as listenable to as Plaid. On their second album, Not For Threes, the duo included two vocal tracks; one with international sensation Bjork and the other with a largely-unknown singer, Nicolette. A move that endeared them to electronica fans.

Plaid’s latest, is, for the most part, soothing. The tracks are short, with the longest clocking in at four and a half minutes, and can be broken down into three types: ephemeral, grimy, and playful. The opener, ‘Missing,’ with its harpsichord melody and whimsical vocals is an example of the first; ‘Eye Robot,’ with its industrial beats and gritty overlay falls under the second; and ‘Thank,’ an upbeat, bouncy tune that makes you see sunshine easily falls under the last.

A reviewer for the much-respected electronic music site Resident Advisor, criticized the album for its lack of adventurism. As a longtime fan of the band, it’s hard to argue. There’s nothing surprising about Scintilli, it’s Plaid through and through. But for someone who was praying against a gimmick, who was hoping they wouldn’t jump on some bandwagon for a cheap sale, the familiar is comforting. It’s like running into an old friend from college and realizing that, while you’ve both matured, you’re the same people at the core. Plaid is like an old friend you can come back to years later and pick up right where you left off; and, for those coming to them for the first time, there’s a whole catalog just like Scintilli ready for the listening.

Plaid’s official website

Written by Gabrielle

March 14, 2012 at 7:10 am

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