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Plaid in General

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      18.10.2001 07:07
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      Are you sitting comfortably?..then I'll begin: Long long ago, back in the days when all music made with machines was expected to sound like either a juggernaut juddering through a foundation-shaking block party or a wispy-haired buddha noodling through the ambient emptiness of a distant star system(with a dub bassline), there existed in an unfashionable corner of money-blighted essex, a band called Black Dog. They were unusual in that, despite living near the Prodigy, and existing in a millieu where EVERYONE AND THEIR GRAN was making hit records, they never really made anything that made you jump up and dance like a puppet with the strings on fire. The reason being (and I speak as someone who really appreciates the kind of tunes that grab you by the innards and tell you deep in the pit of your stomach that you really OUGHT to dance) that they were too busy making music that was unique, and really (oooh there's a tear in my eye) quite beautiful. In these early days the dark canine crew took a metaphorical walkies through several sadly now defunct record labels (Rising High, GTR), before dropping a slightly dribbly newspaper on the mat and scratching at the door of the natural home of such electronic eccentricity- Warp Records. First bark from the plushly upholstered kennel built on the workshop side of Warp's extended semi-detached house was 1993's 'Bytes'-one of the albums that was responsible for the whole 'cor some electronic music is actually quite good to listen to at home' movement, and that remains one of my favourite albums ever (my vinyl copy is a sorry sight..too many late nights). In this vein, Black Dog went on to release 'Temple of Transparent Balls' and 'Spanners', both of which are lovely quirkily abstract records (particularly 'Spanners' which features some ugly-beautiful oddball classical-meets-electronica-and-techno-up-a-weird-alley-decorated-with-egyptian
      -symbols type action). Pat pat...good dog. However, in 1995, they ran into a slight problem in that two of the band's members decided they didn't like the third, and split off to form (or reform- having released occasional tracks under this moniker from 1988 onwards) Plaid. Since which, Black Dog (BD member Ken Downie on his own) material has slipped into obscurity and mediocrity. Bad move Ken! Plaid (Ed Handley and Andy Turner) had the good fortune (or good judgement.... or just the laziness) to stay within the Warp family, and, having messed around in their Bubble studio for a year or two, in 1996 released 'Not for Threes', an album which still makes me go 'oooh' and 'wow' today No point in explaining it, because it really has a readily identifiable and unique sound, but it sets the tone for the next two albums, with guest vocals from Bjork, Nicolette and others, surrounded by the trademark Plaid sound of plinky plonky synths playing pretty tunes, grinding strings, weird little mauled vocal snippets, bouncy electronic bass, and beautifully interwoven counterpoint. Their tunes nod along in a friendly fashion, constructing themselves into compicated shapes, with the occasional unexpected jump that changes the direction completely. And most unexpectedly for electronic music, Plaid's music is SAD, melancholy, beautiful, brave, resilient, cheerful, and has even been known to make me cry (which is unheard of). I've heard it described as 'abstract electronic folk music' and that's not far off the mark. I can always hear the ghosts in the machine....they're in there, not afraid to be reflective, not afraid to be melancholy.. 'Not for Threes' is a very strong album, with Bjork's pure and spooky vocal on 'Lilith' probably the highlight. 1998's 'Rest Proof Clockwork' continues the plinky plonky journey through space and time but with a ha
      ppier, more accessible feel. In parts the album wanders into a late 90s version of early 80s OMD, but mostly it's pure Plaid in all their wibbly-wobbly toytown symphony glory. The highlight is undoubtedly the closing tune (I could almost say 'piece' but my inbuilt pretentiousness radar starts to flash) 'Airlocked'. A delicately controlled warp and weft weave of calypso steel drum and Plaid weirdness extravaganza, it's a wonderful expression of something, not sure what, but it always makes me feel SOMETHING. and on to...2001's 'Double Figure' (took me a while to find the title on the typically arty cover). Bit of a mixed bag this one: Some classic Plaid, some more 'digital' sounding synths, some 80s-feeling electronic wizardry, and some harking back to Black Dog moments of high speed techno tunelessness. However, all (forgivable) semi-lapses of taste are atoned for by the lovely tones of 'Zamami' and last tune 'Manyme' (seems to be a rule that the last tune on a Plaid/Black Dog album is an absolute corker). So where now? Plaid are said to be contemplating a change of style, and leaving the first three albums as a trilogy of plinky plonky magic. In terms of fame, major production credits for Bjork have done them no harm (I have a sneaky feeling they might 'do' Madonna at some point in that William-Orbit-becomes-instant-superstar tradition), but really, who knows what to make of the motivation of people who call their tunes 'Porn Coconut Co', 'Pino Pomo' and 'Abla Eedio' ????????? I'll certainly be keeping my eyes out...so should you.. Ooh one more thing...look out for 'Trainer', an album of almost unobtainable early (pre Black Dog) Plaid tracks..out on Warp now. It's slashed the value of my record collection but I'll forgive it (harrumph) So there we go, Plaid. Try 'em. Love 'em. Hate 'em. Whate
      ver... :o)

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