The Warp duo turn towards harder sounds with mixed results.
On Polymer, Ed Handley and Andy Turner emphasize the toughness of these synthetic qualities with a turn towards harder, dance floor-adjacent sounds. "Maru" is broken techno with heavy kick drums and shoulder-shuffling snares. Other tracks are less forgiving. "Recall" is all pounding drums that land with the mean crunch of hardcore techno, while "Drowned Sea" is built from spongy textures that recall the abstract materials used on the website and album artwork.
Polymer's best parts show a keen balance of emotional and technical qualities. Take the arpeggios on "Los," which run in a different time signature to the drums. It's a disorienting effect made more extraordinary by the unpredictable chord progressions. Tracks like "Los" also carry the warm, nostalgic glow that derailed their last few LPs. Polymer's darker moments help mitigate that issue—feelings of innocence and sentimentality are occasionally upturned by an even stronger sense of foreboding.
Still, Polymer gets soft roughly midway. Though it's striking to hear the gleam of plucked strings on songs like "Dancers" and "Nurula," the melodies are unconvincing, the arrangements toothless. As with their last album, The Digging Remedy, these songs plod along at a mid-tempo pace without ever really going anywhere. Like 2014's Reachy Prints, the music is pretty yet insubstantial. There are melodies and some grand gestures, but the lack of tension and dynamics makes Polymer feel empty.
The closer, "Praze," lifts the album out of its funk. It features glockenspiel, harpsichord and shimmering strums of guitar moulded into a delicate, almost baroque melody. That might sound mawkish, but the track swoons with the mystery and majesty of classy Plaid records like Double Figure and Spokes. Polymer could have used more of this.