Music News

Plaid

Like so many rock and pop figures, Plaid's Andy Turner and Ed Handley rose to the top of the electronic music pantheon by paying their dues as members of a (now-defunct) groundbreaking group. Back in 1993, Turner and Handley were two-thirds of the Black Dog, which helped lay the groundwork for the so-called Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) genre, with its electro-tinged melodies and quirky Middle Eastern rhythms. The Black Dog's Bytes and 1995 follow-up Spanners transmogrified the silliness of underground rave and early techno fodder like Altern-8 and Orbital into quixotic musical themes informed with a contemplative aspect. This was dance music for your mind.

Upon the Black Dog's demise, Handley and Turner split with erstwhile pal Ken Downie to work on their longtime fixation, Plaid. P-Brane further explores the territory the duo explored on its previous album Double Figure, on which the ambient overtones of Brian Eno and cult soundtrack composer Vangelis serve as a raw canvas for hip-hop beats, digital noise explosions and the most gossamer of melodies. The lead track, "Coat," begins just this way, with mellow piano tones echoing softly before a mechanical hip-hop beat cracks in to get things going. But instead of featuring the rhymes of an MC over this backbone, Plaid inserts a dark, aching synthesizer melody that wafts over the frantic percussion bubbling just below the surface. This juxtaposition of sonic textures permeates P-Brane. "Diddymousedid" is childlike chime music countered by the bouncy syncopated rhythms reminiscent of the duo's Black Dog days, while "Stills" marries dreamy harp-like arpeggios to fancy jazz drum breaks and shifting time signatures.

It's these allusions to the beloved Black Dog project that keep seasoned electronic music aficionados coming back — and Plaid's audience continues to grow with each release, as Turner and Handley push those older ideas into fantastic new directions. A great release in its own right, P-Brane embraces the axiom that, to remain musically and culturally relevant, you have to push forward as much as you look back

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Heath K. Hignight