Firmly back where they belong: luring us in with quirky, brightly colored and accessible melodies, then trapping us in their dizzying maze of surprise, delight and hidden depths. Keep digging.
There’s never been a dull moment in the near twenty-five years spent exploring the plaid-wallpapered, carpeted, upholstered, veneered and lacquered dwellings architected by the inimitable Ed Handley and Andy Turner. Well, except, of course, for those few barren years when nothing new appeared on the landscape.
Back in the early noughties, Plaid began strolling nonchalantly down almost Autechrean side-alleys that led them away from the wildly eclectic collages of Not For Threes and the playful quirkiness of Rest Proof Clockwork, with Double Figure pointing towards a more abstract world that culminated in the blistering sound-design of the by turns stunning then alienating anomaly that was Spokes.
Three years later, a worrying foray into collaborative audiovisual work on Greedy Baby that largely failed to create imagery that lived up to the caliber of their compositions seemed to ominously prefigure that which every fan surely dreads: a move into film soundtracks. I mean, seriously, does anyone really love it when one of their favorite acts goes down this route? It marked the end of Plaid as a prolific major player in the electronic music scene for another five years as they went dark from the Warp roster.
How wonderful it was to have them back in 2011 with the exquisitely crafted Scintilli, refreshed, recharged and bursting at the seams with new ideas. So what is this digging remedy then? Have Ed & Andy been spending time in the back garden unearthing the seeds, relics and keepsakes that were the roots of past glories as a palette cleanser to that stark, sound-design oriented material? Reachy Prints hinted at this, and listening to The Digging Remedy it’s easy to imagine that to be the case.
Nobody could accuse Plaid’s work of being unsubtle, and it’s the lack of immediacy borne of that which makes Plaid’s music such a joy to revisit. There’s always something new to discover on a Plaid record, but it really has to be said that since the release of Reachy Prints they’ve taken this to new levels.
Both that album and The Digging Remedy are not just melodically subtle, but subtly complex, both in the production and arrangements. Witness, too, just how short their recent output is compared with the more experimental, noodling days of Not For Threes, wonderful though they were. Nothing on The Digging Remedy is over four and a half minutes long, yet there’s nary a single track that feels underdeveloped.
With the possible exception of the terminally infectious “Saladore” perhaps, but maybe that’s simply because it’s so good? At just under four minutes, Plaid spend two building and layering some of their most insistent, stuttering and rapid-fire percussion in years, adding tumbling keys, then airy melodic pads, before finally topping them with sublime strings in the final minute. And it has the indecency to end there, the swine!
On opening builder “Do Matter,” the crystalline shards and prismatic beams that made the most memorable moments of Spokes and Scintilli come alive are present but so is an overarching Tomorrow’s Harvest sense of foreboding that carries over into the nervy “Baby Step Giant Step.”
Pronounced nods to the past appear on “Dilatone,” which on the surface sounds like it could easily have appeared on Not For Threes alongside “Abla Eedio” or “Prague Radio”. The sublime “CLOCK” employs that old IDM favourite: the bouncing ball effect. Only instead of it being migraine-inducing, Plaid make this both fun and nostalgia-pinging. It culminates in a frenetic, colorful melange of everything we’ve come to know and love about Plaid.
The acoustic touches of Rest Proof Clockwork shine brightly here too, even though they don’t necessarily illuminate many of The Digging Remedy‘s finest moments. “The Bee” is “Dang Spot” silly but fails to ignite on account of sounding so out of place and the penultimate “Held” warbles cheerfully enough, but merely skates above a lake of pretty. The closing “Wen,” however, is every bit as graceful and delicately nuanced as tracks like “Ralome” or “Gel Lab” whilst adding to the mix all those tricks they’ve accumulated from their soundtrack work.
Even when returning to the polished chrome of Double Figure Plaid are surpassing themselves, as evinced by the melodic delicacy of the quieter moments of “Yu Mountain” interspersed with all the clatter and clang. Another highlight of that album was also one its most atypical moments, the sublime acoustic-guitar led “Eyen” twinkling wryly amongst its other glitzy, over-polished and hyperactive brethren. The spellbinding “Melifer” mines a similar vein with its gorgeously composed guitar melodies, at first ruminative then positively chipper as they whistle through trademark metallic instruments.
Ultimately, The Digging Remedy feels like a perfectly natural successor to Reachy Prints, with Plaid firmly back where they belong: luring us in with quirky, brightly colored and accessible melodies, then trapping us in their dizzying maze of surprise, delight and hidden depths. Keep digging.