Review Summary: Plaid subdued.
Ever since the burgeoning UK electronic scene of the early nineties, spearheaded by Warp’s Artificial Intelligence
series and their impressive catalogue of artists, Andy Turner and Ed Handley have been at the center of the IDM world. From their earliest days with The Black Dog, and their self-managed label Black Dog Productions, until the split which ultimately resulted in the formation of Plaid as a functional unit (even though the moniker had been used before), the British duo were massive contributors to the sound that would eventually flourish into the style known as intelligent dance music. While their earlier efforts were far more characteristic of the kind of music Warp was interested in for their highly influential Artificial Intelligence
series, Plaid emerged as a major contributor with their now classic 1997 album Not For Threes
, managing to strike a successful middle ground between the major distinctive sounds that would eventually be encompassed by the blanket genre term of IDM. Since then, Plaid have been quite successful in carving out a unique niche for themselves in the world of experimental electronic music. Not quite as zany and fun as the likes of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, but not as cold, calculated, and robotic as fellow label mates Autechre, Plaid have been producing unique and fairly consistently good music since the early nineties.
, Plaid’s 10th studio album (if you take into account their brilliant soundtrack work during the mid-2000’s) sees Plaid utilizing the same basic approach that resulted in 2011’s Scintilli
and further expanding upon it. This is rather characteristic of how Plaid have always approached their music, never quite straying from their roots while further exploring the capabilities of their own unique sound palette. Each one of their albums isn’t necessarily an extension of that sound as much as it is an expansion, exploring in equal parts all the different elements that comprise their synthetic world. What this really means though, in the context of this new album, is that Plaid is back to making the same kind of music Plaid has always made, except this time with a larger focus on the accessible, playful pop elements that have always floated around beneath the surface of the glitchy fragments and mutated samples that have become mainstays to their aesthetic.
The result this time around is an album that sounds rather restrained and subdued in relation to what has come to be expected from the likes of Andy Turner and Ed Handley. Gone are the head bobbing hip-hop beats and breaks that were so characteristic of the duo’s earlier output. This time Plaid have planted their focus firmly within the realm of sound design, molding samples and synth patches to give us a familiar but altogether new palette of sounds and noises to fill out their aural environment instead of focusing on the complex rhythmic sections that have been integral to many of their most acclaimed releases. Barely evolving rhythmic sections and rather simplistic song structure pervade the backbone of Reachy Prints
, resulting in an lighter, poppier tone than most of the more challenging material Plaid has produced over the years. This is an album that functions very much like you would expect an album from a group that has been producing music for more than 20 years at this point. It is both retrospective and restrained in ways that only really come with age and experience.
Fortunately for Plaid, this kind of thing works fairly well in a portion of the songs present on Reachy Prints
. The standout track, “Hawkmoth”, is a laid-back, whimsical reimagining of the early 90’s IDM sound that Turner and Handley played such an integral part in shaping, relying on equal parts retrospection and nostalgia. The sound design on tracks like “OH”, “Wallet”, “Slam”, and “Matin Lunaire” provide plenty of pleasant noises to dissect and enjoy, and manage to remain interesting most of the way through despite their unassuming nature. The major problem with Reachy Prints
lies in the fact that sound design alone cannot carry an album, and while there are points where interesting arrangements and sublime sounds are at the forefront, it takes far too long to reach them, and the album generally resorts to being background noise for the majority of its duration. Most of the pop sensibilities that pervade the album show up on tracks that really fail to create any visceral or cerebral connection, and water down the sound far too much to warrant the large part they play in the simplified structure and approach to most of these compositions.
In the end, Reachy Prints
ends up being little more than a mildly interesting glimpse into the world Plaid have been playing around in since the early 90’s. While not thoroughly engaging, the small hints at brilliance and the rather unique sound design are probably worth at least a listen or two. The playful, quirky sound of classic Plaid albums will probably never be resurrected at this point, and Reachy Prints
is an album that is willing to concede that point in order to move along both musically and ideologically, even if the result is not as successful as one might hope. Plaid are still alive and kicking, but unless you are a die-hard fan of the duo of Andy Turner and Ed Handley, Reachy Prints
is yet another tedious exercise in modern IDM attempting to stay relevant, and failing to do a very good job of convincing us listeners that it is.