Plaid have placed extreme effort into honing electronic sounds so that they have an acoustic feel, creating a divine meeting in the middle where one never overpowers the other. Plaudits must also go to Ed and Andy’s mission to avoid excessive and unnecessary loudness for the sake of creating impact as the album progresses.
[Release page] It may have been a good eight years since Spokes, Plaid‘s last traditional, dyed in the wool album, but the duo have been anything but dormant in that time, busying themselves with the ambitious audio-visual project Greedy Baby, extensive touring, film scores for Heaven’s Door and the anime Tekkonkinkreet, various collaborations and the building a new studio space. But now, the wait is over. It’s finally here. Scintilli may not be the jaw-on-the-floor surprise change of direction that, say, Autechre’s Oversteps was but you can bet it will be far less divisive. Be warned, though: if you’re blase enough to write an album off after a cursory listen, you’ll likely derive little pleasure from Scintilli. Give it a chance… hell, give it fifty chances and I guarantee that it will not just have grown on you, but will be considered one of their most enduring works.
It is obvious at once just how much effort Plaid have put into making every single sound as realistic and acoustic as possible. It’s sometimes easy to forget you’re listening to electronic music at all. Take the electronic listening music fan’s worst nightmare for instance, in their more extensive usage of guitar sounds. Plaid, however, have placed a similar effort into honing the electronic sounds so that they too have an acoustic feel, creating a divine meeting in the middle where one never overpowers the other. Plaudits must also go to Ed and Andy’s mission to avoid excessive and unnecessary loudness for the sake of creating impact as the album progresses.
Beautifully arranged harpsichord, gutsy piano and lilting guitar open the album on “Missing” (the preview track made available several weeks prior to the release of Scintilli) majestically intertwined with tuned percussion, uplifting and welcoming female vocals. Though you’d never guess, the vocals have apparently been completely synthesized, and the stunningly realistic nature of the results acts like a banner advertising the effort that has gone into making all the other elements sound organic and real.
“Eye Robot” may go against the grain in this generally bubbly collection of uppers by being one of the few grimy and slightly dark tracks on Scintilli but it certainly adds to the dizzying variety of styles on display. When “Thank” releases the ricocheting Arkanoid multi-balls, the familiar pings and boinks ground you right back in familiar Plaid territory. Then there’s the barely controlled mania of “Unbank” that recalls the freedom and wild abandon of Orbital’s The Altogether whilst not actually calling the track “Doctor Who.” This is Plaid after all, so it was never going to be that obvious, the barreling speed of time-travel rendered through multiple, gargling synths, glistening electric guitars, bendy-bus vocals and thumping rhythms.
“Upgrade” verges on the guano-insane, the central registers slurring and protracting like your favorite C60 being frantically stretched and chewed up by a cassette recorder as pitch bent, wobbly keys are machine gunned at P-Brane era springy effects twang and zing. The men in white coats are called in at the end to administer a sedative to silence the relentless, insane quacking as the track slips away.
In its quieter moments Plaid become delicately introspective, such as on “Craft Nine” with its glockenspiel lament or on the Greedy Baby-esque “35 Summers,” which may already be familiar to you as the track that accompanied the promo video for Scintilli, featuring lush underwater photography by Sky Sharrock of a swirling, octopus duelling samurai girl. More tuned percussion begins to percolate and bubble, building in density/intensity until we are surrounded by a forest of wind chimes in a hurricane.
Whilst there are one or two Double Figure era noodling numbers – “Tender Hooks” happily chirps along then suddenly ends without a satisfying denouement and “African Woods,” while a fun return to the marimba-laden days of “Myopia,” lacks the punch and hook that other tracks on exude from every pore – there is very little in the way of loose flesh. Few tracks clock in at over four minutes, meaning that this work is a leaner, tighter effort than previous Plaid outings.
This scrupulous succinctness reaches an almost maddening level on “Founded,” which may just be one of the most poetically beautiful, downright catchy and perfectly timed Plaid tracks in existence. Spring-loaded, caffeine-fueled bass patterns bubble under fretted guitar and music box tinkles, ready to launch into frenzied rhythms and percussion any second, but it never happens. Instead one of the most memorable Plaid vocal melodies floats in on gossamer wings, muzzling the beast for the remainder. At a mere three minutes and twenty seconds it will have screaming for more and scrabbling for the repeat button.
The final clincher is the slightly cheekily titled “At Last,” a classic Plaid builder so uplifting and celebratory that it allows the listener to go on out on a life-affirming high. It is the perfect finale to an album that has cherry-picked all the best and most defining elements of Plaid’s past glories, dropped them into a new electro-acoustic setting and then turned the arrangements, the production and the soul up to eleven to distill quite literally one of their finest achievements. “We’ve been waiting for so long…” croons Plaid’s synthesized first-lady, but they do say that the best things come to those who wait. Welcome back Plaid!
Scintilli is out now on Warp.