Plaid - Reachy Prints

by Ethan Ranis Rating:9 Release Date:2014-05-20

Andy Turner and Ed Handley, the duo who make up Plaid, have been making music together under various guises for 25 years. That's a rather long time to be working together, much less making music with one another. Yet you wouldn't know it from their newest album, Reachy Prints; it's perhaps the freshest-sounding thing they've released in a decade.

Granted, most of the works from that past decade were soundtracks (the exceptions being 2006's Greedy Baby and 2011's Scintili).  But Plaid have absorbed the lessons from that soundtrack work to come up with a definitive, cohesive, and concise statement. Reachy Prints is just nine tracks long and a little under forty minutes, but in that time it takes listeners on a complete journey.  The album begins with airy chimes and complex rhythmic interplay, descends into darker minimalism, then re-emerges into brilliant sunlight.

The album's overall sound isn't terribly unfamiliar - this is unmistakably a callback to the heyday of Warp Records, and Plaid borrow liberally from the techniques of their contemporaries.  Listening, one can hear the flutes and granulizers of Boards of Canada, the glitches and pitch-shifts of Autechre, and the squidgy sounds and syncopation that were long Mouse on Mars' trademark.  It's the way that Plaid seamlessly blend these elements and give their signature touch to their combinations that makes this album special.

A large part of this is that Plaid are master craftsmen, and they make that evident in every element of each track.  Each piece of the puzzle is perfectly placed, and the result sounds amazing - it's a wonderfully lush listen through headphones.  Both 'OH' and 'Hawkmoth' open on stuttering, somewhat-hesitant notes before sliding into slightly-off-kilter rhythms, and eventually gorgeous and complex interlocking melodies.  

'Slam' comes on more threatening, but when an ethereal pad enters in the background, it's no less beautiful for its minor key feel. Another standout is the danceable 'Matin Lunaire,' which swivels on a house-like beat and what sounds like a dub bassline if one pitched it up and unraveled it.  Both 'Tether' and 'Ropen' are significantly darker and feature detuned synthlines that are fascinating even when they are anxiety-provoking.

But perhaps the most innovative and thrilling track on the album is closer 'Liverpool St.'  Beginning with a music box-like sound before adding baroque woodwind and strings, the track begins a constant accelerando that sounds like lifting off from the ground and into full flight. When zapping, richocheting keyboards come in, any saccharine effect the strings might have is immediately, deliciously offset. The result is both playful and utterly unique - one of the best closers to an electronic record since Mouse on Mars's 'Glim.'

Like a lot of electronic listening music, this album would work great in the background when studying, but it really shines when one listens closely.  There's something new to discover at each turn, and something to please most listeners - be it interesting beats or dazzlingly complex harmonies. Give it a spin and see where it takes you.

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