A Journal Of The Dark Arts
When it seems like every era, artist and genre is getting a reassessment and a second life, what happens with an artist that has never gone anywhere? And what does electronic music, a genre obsessed with moving forward, do with artists that have been making music for years?
For all of the critical re-evaluations, the reunions and represses, one movement that has not yet reached it’s parole hearing is late ’90s/early ’00s IDM, the kind churned out through the doors of Warp Records, with the holy trinity being Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher. And perhaps Plaid are their patron saints.
Plaid debunk the myth of progress of Reachy Prints, their 10th album for Warp. Andy Turner and Ed Handley have been making music together since 1988, both as Plaid and The Black Dog, who HAVE been enjoying a renaissance with a successful series of re-issues and new material. The time is right for a fresh listening.
Plaid are perhaps the ultimate illustration of all that was right and holy with Warp records – a blessed equilibrium between dancefloor and headspace. They are WAY more inviting than the grayscale machinations of Autechre, and the Technicolor misanthropy of Aphex Twin, both of whom i adore, but Plaid have a greater potential for crossover, and Reachy Prints could be the soundtrack for any number of beach parties and BBQs this year, if people prove themselves to have good taste.
Which is part of what makes IDM so interesting. While a good portion of Reachy Prints sounds primed for raving-yr-ass-off at Ibiza, or for some monolithic shopping mall, the saccharine trancey adrenaline rush is subverted with all manner of odd harmonies, unexpected sounds and studio flourishes, like when a mandolin enters out of nowhere at the end of nowhere at the end of album opener “OH”.
The bright color melodies are further undermined by odd reverbs and resonances, which make it seem as if you are watching the beach party through a long drainage tube.
And it’s not all major key epicness, either. Plaid switch up the mood, to prevent the album from becoming sickly sweet, and rotting yr teeth out. Take, for example, the late-night mystery of “Slam”, quite probably my favorite track on here. The combination of dusted beats and wriggling arpeggiators is quite en vogue with what the underground is doing, these days, and deserves to earn the duo a grip of new followers.
Not that Plaid care about such things (although i do). Handley & Turner have never been one for hopping on bandwagons. One of the greatest criticisms that have been levelled at them over the years is that they “sound like Plaid”. They’ve always been doing their thing. Which illustrates an interesting thing about Electronic Music, and posits a few guesses on where the genre is headed.
Like i mentioned earlier, electronic music has been obsessed with moving forward – always embracing the newest, flashiest thing. If you were to have played a Lamb or Massive Attack track in a club in 2000, you would have been met with cold shoulders and empty dancefloors. Trip-hop is so TIRED, man. It’s over! Get with the times! Part of which is understandable, part of which is unavoidable, and part of which is utterly tragic, as brilliant tracks are relegated to the dustbins of history, maybe to be reassessed in 20 years or for some retro party. All of this suggests music as a commodity, to be traded in and upgraded, like the newest iPhone.
This is starting to change.
Electronic music’s ultimate goal, since it’s beginnings, has always been the creation of new and interesting sounds, and working out how to arrange them. There are no rules for this genre, only tastes. While some have focused on the dancefloors, getting the club formula down to a fierce level of precision, others have gone a more arty or classical route, creating symphonies out of tones you will not find in nature, filling our minds with alien abstractions, we’ve never seen on Earth. Examine the works of Stockhausen, for examples of this.
Considering Plaid’s work composing soundtracks, it seems obvious to wonder what kinds of movies these 9 tracks would score. Adventure is the first word that springs to mind, particularly of an interplanetary sort. This is more of an adrenaline rush than a thriller, as there are no tense strings to shatter yr nerves and make you watch the doorknob. Some might die, that is to be expected, and is the cost of a life worth living, but along the way you will take a ride on the back of a giant eagle, (“Hawkmoth”), or dance with mermaids at the bottom of the sea (“OH”). You will dance and you will fall in love. You will run covert missions in the dead of night. It sounds like this film would be from circa 1977, as there is a faded, blurry Kodachrome aura around much of Reachy Prints, particularly in the basslines, that recall Boards Of Canada at their finest. Since it seems that so many were bummed that the last BoC record, Summer Harvest, was so grey and dismal, Reachy Prints may be yr solution for a futuristic yet still nostalgic and innocent summer thrill ride.
Gripping stuff! Much highly recommended!
Plaid will be headlining The Village Underground, London, on Friday 23rd May; support from Daedelus, Slugabed, My Panda Shall Fly, and Flint Kids.