From the pioneering techno-adjacent sounds of the Artifical Intelligence scene to IDM’s skittering rhythms and offbeat melodies, Plaid have spent a sizeable amount of time shifting with the winds of British alternative electronica.
But in 2019 the scene is so diffuse and geographic boundaries are so flimsy that no one album or act could contain such multitudes. As a result Polymer finds them settling into moods that are reminiscent of Warp’s golden age, with the snatches of goofiness that always gave Plaid their edge.
Take Los, which opens with a wonky ostinato before a syncopated groove takes hold of the track’s metre. Its 3/4 clashes with the ostinato’s 7/8, and an irrepressibly fizzy synth that makes its entrance around the 1:15 mark just adds to the rhythmic complexity, but it feels like a puzzle worth solving. Elsewhere the bulk of Drowned Sea is dominated by an atmospheric drone, and a gradual crescendo gives way to a mystical synth sequence that subdues the track.
Dancers’ minimal percussion invokes a bouncing ball, as metallic plucks sketch out an angular line, while the harpsichords and pizzicato strings of Praze end the album on a surprisingly dainty note. The most avant-garde moment on the record comes with the stuttery bass tones of Recall, in which the sound design has a physicality that calls to mind SOPHIE’s squelchy textures. But many of the other tracks are content to give off soundtrack vibes, melodies that aren’t too intrusive on top of beats that aren’t too noisy.
Plaid’s contemporaries from the early ’90s are in very different places now, with Aphex Twin incorporating styles footwork in his new releases and Autechre progressing further and further into uncharted terrain. This album, however, is from a duo mostly content to amble down memory lane.