Plaid - Scintilli

British duo, Andy Turner and Ed Handley, remain one of the more auspicious and gratifying acts to come out of Warp's electronic revolution of 90's sound. Their earlier releases 'Not For Threes' and 'Double Figure' hold the same whimsical flutter of anxious venturing today as they had on first release. Even in an age that sees the concept of electronic as, to most people, mere mix-deck filler or a means to wind the volume down when you get to your atypical radio-pop chorus drops, Plaid as an outfit remain unshaken - unwilling to drop their establishment of haunting synths and playful keyboards for something a little more...dare I say it...commercial. I use the words 'earlier releases' not as to amplify that, yes, it has been eight years since their last studio album - most of this space filled by the creation of animated movie soundtracks and art installations alike - but as stated, the duo return in the same fashion a Victorian gentlemen returns to an estate now loitered with BMX-riding hood-covered teenagers.

'Scintilli', 2011's official Plaid contribution, may in some parallel universe have come across as indeed two or three generations out of touch with the real World. But here, in our World - in our Universe - it's as much captivating in its energy as it is unsettling in its honesty. It isn't long until we get to 'Thank' that the memory of Plaid's success as both artists and conjurers truly comes into play. The first thing that springs up, the jumping and hopping of high-atune synths merely acts like a toy to the real abruptness of the song's intense break and sliding of beats back and forth. It's a signature written all over the duo's work, but here the erratic nature of its sound creates a more uneasy vibe, but it's only an uneasiness of the output rather than one of an emotive or even direct response. 'Unbank' however, is the complete opposite, the more rougher texture of electronics gritting against the softening haunting of voices and murmurs that are simply impossible to recognize as either hopeful or helpless. It feels almost patterned and planned out when taking into consideration the way the track drops and withdraws from itself in places, only to return into a stomping of drums and synths alike. But this is what makes it work so incredibly well, alongside the tension and slight anxiety that builds in the sound's overall conjuring.

The next track 'Tender Hooks' as a result, depending on your standing, can either be seen as sympathetic or intimidating towards this build of emotion and interaction with the listener's line of thinking. The beat itself isn't all that complex, but the echo and distant displacement of the accompanying more-melodic sounds give it that more-sentient depth to it. Indeed, the album is a cluster of attacking and counter-attacking mind-sets in such a way that it hardly feels like it's heading in one straight path or direction. Rather, it's all over the place...well-mannered then engaging, then straight back to delicacy only to crumple it all up for something more 'out there'. 'Sömnl' shares the same kind of indecisiveness and abstract line of thought as is seen on later Autechre records - another worthy Warp name, I think you'll agree - but here it feels more sinister and conserved, as if not entirely telling the whole story.

It's a strange thing to describe, because the way Plaid have set out to construct these track and these crumpled-up-balls of bouncing sounds, only creates a sense of uneasy enjoyment about their music. And while that's not exactly a bad thing, it does, by default, make you wonder just what manner of character or reason (if such a thing can be spoke about in electronic music) these sounds have rummaging inside themselves. 'Talk To Us' certainly demonstrates this manic speed and while it still holds the same degree of progression as earlier Plaid records, the underlay of fellow electronics makes this feel like the track is balancing above some darkening void rather than a mix desk. '35 Summers' the follower, does share with us a sort of surreal delicacy in its sprinkling of crystal-like keys and muddy wet synthesizers, but in all it feels less like a stand-out means of identity, and more like a shining crack amidst the absorbing infinite chasm this album manifests itself as.

Scintilli's penultimate manifestation 'Upgrade' is quite possibly the true ambassador to the album's uneasy stretch of territory into our ears. Whether it's the crash and sizzle of percussion or the overall push and drive of the track's primarily-dominant beat, the track feels much more on the edge and unsteady - unplanned, rather - than the previous listens. The addition of harmony, as if attempting to drown the track out later in the composition, again like many tracks before it, can't be made out as to whether it's hindering, or instead, helping this upheaval of out-of-control sounds.

And all this tantalizing and testing of sounds and the effects it produces, come off a 13-track record where four minutes is the average length of repercussion and collision of sounds. Yes, Plaid are no strangers to keeping things under wraps and under control so far as time is concerned, but here it seems, they've decided against stretching these sounds out into an environment of musical collage and montage, so as to discover what the resulting salvo would come across as. Indeed it feels to me at least, the sounds are more compressed and produce this erratic undecipherable nature as a result of this. But most importantly, it pays off, and that's the most crucial thing. 'Scintilli' emphasizes Plaid's fitting to the electronic scene with haunting accuracy, and even after almost twenty years at this, their latest release feels like some twisted bad dream, yet one you can't escape from. Not because it's caught you and there's no way out, rather the opposite...you can see the exit, yet you don't want it to leave. It's intrigue, it's understanding, and that's what keeps us latched onto this culmination of sound.


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Discovery: Plaid - Scintilli
Plaid - Scintilli
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