Plaid are old hands at this EDM lark. Reachy Prints is their 10th album in a 25-year career that owes as much to remixes and spells behind the production desk (for the likes of Björk and Goldfrapp) as it does to the London-based duo’s reams of original material. So what do Andy Turner and Ed Handley have left to prove? What has changed in the three long years since their last full-length release, 2011’s Scintilli?
Not a lot, as it turns out. Granted, Plaid is not a name to have graced the upper echelons of the charts in the same fashion as peer Aphex Twin, but neither have they suffered post-peak troughs: the constituent parts of their remarkably consistent back catalogue collect neither dust nor adulation. They haven’t yet reached the point where they can coast on former glories, and nor will they ever: their mandate was, is and will continue to be to write for the dance floor and – here’s what some acts seem to forget – to simply have fun doing it.
Which isn’t to say that we’re talking about Junior Senior gimmick-pop here. Opening salvo OH, in fact, shimmers and skitters into earshot with a dulcimer-sounding flourish before tremulous, molasses-paced strings are overlaid with Plaid’s trademark sound – syncopated beats – and the fires of whimsy are stoked by tweaks, touches and a lovingly crafted percussive track. An organic sense pervades as real instruments intertwine with electronic samples, calling to mind the curious irresistibility of Drop-era Cornelius.
Lead single Hawkmoth follows shortly thereafter. Its slightly off-kilter demeanour is the result of an interesting juxtaposition between the lead riff – which at first seems to operate on its own time signature – and a backing track that takes many more steps to maintain the same pace. It’s the kind of melodic duality on which Plaid have made their name, akin to a kite flyer flitting back and forth to accommodate the steady pull of their toy.
Nafovanny reveals another string to their bow: their sinister industrial sound, where clattering percussion and a slightly menacing bass line are soon appended by increasingly exotic synth licks. Almost imperceptibly, the aural canvas becomes a smorgasbord of sound. It is, arguably, Reachy Prints’ high watermark – an observation given weight by the comparatively tame Slam, which follows up with a conventional, club-friendly composition that, despite its crescendo, doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Wallet, on the other hand, straddles the album’s halfway point with a gesture for the listener to slow down and take stock. Its delicate opening seconds consist of curious organ chords – much like Air‘s down-tempo Virgin Suicides soundtrack – before a fully-laden percussive track muscles its way into the mix and coerces the affair firmly but fairly into Röyksopp territory. Matin Luniere repeats the feat, its gossamer-thin intro turning out to be a feint as a fully-fledged floor-filler reveals itself. Its main riff is almost laughably simple – a real lobotomy beat – but it combines superbly with myriad elements to establish an unstoppable groove. There’s even room to observe that classic EDM trope: component parts dropping away, only to be rebuilt one-by-one.
By comparison, second single Tether is glitch-laden, its stop-start tempo pricking the pop balloon that has grown over the preceding eight minutes. Its metallic samples and pounding beat feel grimy, as if they’ve emerged from a basement; an apt metaphor since Reachy Prints is supposed to be “a journey into a subterranean world”. Subsequent track Ropen remains in the shadows before orchestral album-closer Liverpool St reiterates Plaid’s sense of whimsy with its almost Disney-like character. It’s a strange yet fantastic move for a band known for their coherent, cohesive output. There are new tricks in these old dogs yet.