Kompakt, perhaps anticipating the current minimalist backlash, or maybe just staking their commercial future, have made 2008 a decidedly pop-bent year. In fact, they’ve even gone out of their way to rerelease Pluxus’s Solid State, a two-year-old (an age that used to be unthinkable for a forward-thinking label) German artifact that bears no resemblance to the label’s signature sound.
Pluxus are perhaps best known for their warm analogue gloop made in the vein of other snow robots like Solvent and Skanfrom (their singles compilation is tagged with the adorably disconcerting moniker Plu Plux Plan), but their little-heard album Solid State captured a coveted fancy from none other than Kompakt ko-label head Michael Mayer for its movements into highly tinkered-with realms not-so-fuzzy and warm.
On Solid State, they’ve gone fully digital, crisp and taut, with a three-piece band, vocodered vocals, strummy guitars, and the like, remarkably pulling off an acrobatic augur act that sounds much more ’08 than ’06. Its interaction with glitchery, such as on the opening folk guitar of otherwise electrolytic single “Bootstrap” or on the Italo-western twang of opener “Transient” (the rare attempt at this style within electronica that doesn’t tumble Jenga-style into self-parody) where the cigarette burns of the John Ford reel meld with the acetate and celluloid to make Brakhage collage, is oddly interactive, rather than deteriorative. Most glitches in modern electronic music tend to either overtake the music, making it a digital passion play exploiting the sacrificial production track and centralizing its happily accidental formative errors, or resigns the calculated malfunctions to scenery, like they were faux-psych phasing effect gimmickry for a ‘70s hard-binging blues-rock band. By contrast, Pluxus uses the first half of Solid State to show how wonderful these sounds function as collaborative instruments, no less important than, say, a hi-hat.
“Contax” finds robot syntax at the median, the kind that communicates in short rhythmic bursts indistinguishably linguistic to the human ear. The robotics blurt cold deep-throated Morse-code transmissions as a some smooth keys glide underneath. “Perm” uses the same breathy processed vocal effects as Ellen Allien’s “Abstract Pictures” across a skitter beat, albeit to a different effect. Whereas Allien tried to channel a ghost in the machine, Pluxus’s voices are part of the sentient superstructure of the machines themselves. Even the obvious single “Kinoton” (also the only song with lyrics) is piece-mealed together using crunchy static to complement its acoustic tango and sunkissed vocals.
Pluxus can come off at times sounding like a more economical version of Sweet Trip, a much missed dreampop band whose 2003 release Velocity:Design:Comfort was marked as much by its dense excess of straggling wires as it was for its lush melodies. Pluxus take that energy to a decidedly darker place on most of Solid State, and rather than mesh tangled junk scrap electrics into power-surge folk art, they tightly assemble the flotsam sounds and marionette them in advanced apocalyptic theatrics. Its succinctness makes the track more accessible, but they’re missing an assigned grandeur implicit in their scope of sound. With all songs falling under the five minute mark, the major failing of these songs may be that they are too, mind the pun, kompakt.
Though many would not dare call them out, it’s clear Pluxus are at least partially indebted to IDM, tapping Aphexy reverberated soft synths for “Sansui” and the more corrosive and degraded aspects of Autechre on “Corosse”, which is also driven pogoed and volleying pitch-bends that manage to somehow sound non-cartoonish. Solid State maps spatial dynamics that the human listener might interpret to be some kind of liminal space between dancing, grooving, and completely falling apart. It’s a brand of disorienting disjecta I’d find best dubbed something to the effect of Offstep, an intentional fallacy of destabilized beats and melodies riper for having been place off-center.
The album’s title then (and the bold black disc that accompanies it) offers a kind of critique of sonic physique, stark pantones, and unalternating currents, not unlike those adorning Kompakt’s back catalogue. It’s a fascinating journey by audio, even though, and sometimes especially when, it’s obscured by synthetic clutter.