Finally, Plaid has come out with an album that doesn’t sound like an attempt at rehashing Not for Threes. Sure, their past two albums sounded lovely enough, but you couldn’t help but get the feeling that the duo was trying to relive their 1998 success – well, as much success as you can achieve in the field of experimental electronica.
The album’s opener, “Even Spring,” starts off with a soothing, simple music box line with wordless vocals, as if to remind people that yes, this is still Plaid. Within a couple of minutes, it breaks into a beat that’s a bit more complex than usual, but would still be at home on Double Figure, their last LP. As usual, you can’t dance to it without hurting yourself. From there, though, all chaos breaks loose and we see them branching out and building off of the threads they started spinning on last year’s P-Brane EP. “Crumax Rins,” the second track, sits in a minor-key, downbeat space with uncharacteristically deep, subtle bass and strange warbling noises on the high end, building up layers and then fading away into soft static. The ethereal noises continue in the next song, augmented by a beat that sounds more like recent Autechre than anything else, though thankfully less repetitive.
The rest of the album continues in this vein, emphasizing ambience instead of the bounciness of albums past. Some listeners may find it unappealing that on some tracks, Plaid has decided to use more dissonance than usual. This results in some strange permutations, like “Cedar City,” best described as atonal electro-pop, but what do you expect from a group on a label like Warp?
The only places where the album genuinely falls flat are on the filler, where they sound too much like themselves on their past three albums. Plus, one of those stale tracks sounds like an attempt at an instrumental ballad, which would be OK if it weren’t for the fact that all their music is mechanical sounding. It’s the musical version of a robot love poem, and it sounds too unpleasantly ’80s-ish, anyway.
That said, the majority of the album is brilliant and novel, which is not entirely common in today’s music scene. Another thing Plaid got right about Spokes is the length: 10 tracks, clocking in at just under an hour. It’s just long enough to fill a good nap with strange lucid dreams or occupy your mind while plateauing on psychoactive substances. Even while clear-headed, it’s a good trip in and of itself.
[Ian King can probably find a cleverer, more grammatically correct way to phrase this.]