[22 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Plaid is a London-based electronic music duo, made up of Andy Turner and Ed Handley. They have been around for some 25 years now, and are now releasing their 10th album, Reachy Prints. They’ve also had their hand in Web apps. The new song “Tether” is accompanied by a video of sorts where you can manipulate geometric shapes on the screen by dragging or clicking your mouse, or touching the screen on your smartphone or tablet. So this is a pretty innovative duo, though they are also a group that hasn’t enjoyed widespread mainstream success – you pretty much talk about these guys in hushed, reverential tones, and pass their records off to friends in a brown paper bag.
Reachy Prints isn’t probably going to change that, but it’s a more than dependable record that offers up a wide variety of instrumental electronic music. Reachy Prints often feels symphonic, and there are times, such as on final track “Liverpool Street” where the group nudges into classical music territory. As far as electronic albums go, Reachy Prints is a very, very good one. Even though the outfit reportedly takes its name for the Welsh word for party, this is soundtrack music full of emotion, and isn’t really suited for the dance floor. Except sometimes.
The most noteworthy tracks begin and close the album, which is pretty much the way you want to go if you want to make a lasting impression. Opener “OH” begins thing with a zither-like sound, before stopping and then tentatively beginning against as a dubby beat rises to the fore. The song becomes very pretty, sort of the thing you might expect to hear in a modern art gallery, and feels both futuristic and grounded in the present tense simultaneously. As it goes along, it even becomes quite angelic, with a vocal harmony that soars above the clouds straight into the gates of heaven. And then there’s “Liverpool Street”, which boasts a lilting woodwind section, and I could swear that the duo might be referencing the majesty of Wagner or some such thing here. The woodwinds swoop as strings are added in, and the song is built on a repetitive loop that is gorgeous and breathtaking. It takes the listener on a celestial trip deep into the mind, and it references the cover art that features an X-ray of the human skull with an image of a tree in full bloom superimposed upon it. “Liverpool Street” is quite trippy. A mind trip, if you will.
But the album is also filled with outstanding track after outstanding track. “Hawkmoth” has a zippy keyboard riff that is memorable and the song as a whole takes flight, buoyed by peppy electronics. “Wallet”, meanwhile, slows things down mid-album to allow everybody to catch their breath, and it’s quite lovely with gurgling keys. It almost sounds like something that could have been recorded in the mid-‘80s, it has that glossy and slick feel to it – like it should be backing a TV show such as Miami Vice. Plus, of course, there’s “Tether”, with a beat that sounds like a whip being cracked, and bubbly electronics. It might be the most danceable thing on the record.
“Nanovanny”, on the other hand, sounds like something that came from the Terminator movies, with its portending and gloomy keys and windshield wiper-like beats. “Matin Lunaire” moves along with quiet sonics, before blowing wide open into almost Krautrock territory. I have a feeling that this song might be used in a car commercial at some point. “Ropen”, on the other hand, has an almost industrial feel to it, and is full of doom and portending. And, while we’re at it, “Slam” has a certain ‘70s disco cadence, and drives along with a motorik impression. Clearly, there’s more than enough here to keep listeners enchanted.
Overall, there’s a surge of emotion and feeling to be found on Reachy Prints, making it one of the most outstanding electronic albums to come out this year. Plaid has been dubbed as “post-techno” in the music press, and it’s apparent that the duo continues to mine and hone its own sound, and soars above any of its influences. While the album does feel more like a smorgasbord of music without anything remotely approaching a clear direction, taking individually, these are fantastic songs. While at least one early review of the album basically accused the duo of going places where they had gone before, Reachy Prints does feel like an original work, and there are moments, as alluded to before, where this might tip-toe into the realm of art. It is, at the very least, an interesting listen, and is quite appealing in terms of what it is trying to do: make soundscapes out of electronics.
This is music you can set your watch to, it’s that on spot. There’s more than enough variety on the LP to keep listeners on their toes, if not quite on their feet as this, as noted before, isn’t overtly danceable, aside from the odd moment here and there. Reachy Prints is quite something, and it makes you glad to be alive and kicking so you can enjoy the paintings in sound that this duo so deftly accomplishes.