The wealth of fresh new artists coming into the electronic music scene tends to get all the attention these days, but there's just as much to talk about with older artists and the way that they mature. Since the "reverse trilogy" of Not For Threes, Rest Proof Clockwork and Double Figure, general consensus has been that Plaid haven't really been on the same form. The body of work since then that has included Spokes, and the work they've done with visual art, film soundtracks and gamelan has often been noteworthy, but rarely sensational. So with eight years since the last one, is Plaid's highly anticipated new album an opus, or simply orthodox?
Overall, you get the impression that they're treading and deepening well-worn grooves. Their style is inimitable, and for fans of it, Scintilli most certainly delivers. (There's even the familiar pineapple flavoured calypso track.) Complex, defined rhythms are made out of sharp digital sounds, and time signatures are played with; their level of musicianship and deftness of production deserves respect.
What has always marked Plaid out particularly against other electronica artists, though, is their use of prominent and often weird melodies and harmonies. These are all present and correct. "Tender Hooks," for example, is just lovely: breathy puffs of pastel synths burst above a pattering, gently tight 5/4 rhythm. When the distilled female vocal cuts through the dissonant strobe of "Founded," it's one of the album's finest moments. Their consonance with the strains of the fairer sex comes along again on the album's closer, "At Last." It's another sweet, melancholic track that leaves us reminded of their talent for gorgeous chord sequences.
This refinement is, most certainly, a double-edged sword. Scintilli isn't a particularly adventurous album (although there are certainly moments). "Eye Robot" is a particular example, with its crawling, distorted breaks. It's pulled off pretty solidly, but it doesn't seem to have much point when there are plenty of other (and better) examples around. "Sömnl" is dense and Baroque, with angular FM plucks and an undeniably clammy, claustrophobic atmosphere, but it leaves out any further dimensions.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Scintilli doesn't have as much of a sense of continuum as the aforementioned trilogy—which is something that any good album should have. The special edition pack reflects the music pretty well. It includes two coloured hoops that assemble with the CD to give a spherical mobile, with the track titles read over the intersections. It's aesthetically satisfying and quite intriguing, but the whole thing would benefit from more depth. With that said, they're still more than capable of producing excellent and often sublime tracks, and it's fair to say that on Scintilli, the balance is decisively in favour of the keepers.
Buy Plaid - Scintilli at
Tracklist: Plaid - Scintilli 01. Missing
02. Eye Robot
05. Tender Hooks
06. Craft Nine
09. Talk to Us
10. 35 Summers
11. African Woods
13. At Last
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