EDM, IDM, We All DM
Andy Samberg’s short comedic film for the May 17th episode of Saturday Night Live properly skewered mainstream electronic music, showing why it’s regarded as monotonous and headache-inducing. With live-event fakery, quickly tiresome arrangements and a fanbase that couldn’t care less about the results as long as they get their dance, their date and their molly, “When Will the Bass Drop?” made it obvious there’s no “I” in “EDM” but there’s sure a truckload of “ME.”
On their new album Reachy Prints, veteran beatmakers Plaid attack this music from another angle. Andy Turner and Ed Handley here wonder aloud what modern producers might sound like with a few more samples, judicious use of decay, and instead of dropping bass, well, how about dropping the bass volume down a notch, or dropping it out entirely? There are plenty of sequences and melodies that sound lifted from some of those arena-ready electronic acts, just slathered with restraint.
For the most part, the album’s rhythm lines are unobtrusive almost to the point of invisibility. Soft and squishy, clicking and clacking for 41 minutes, if you replaced them with some other boomin’ system they might slide into an Electric Daisy Carnival lineup. As they stand, it means that Reachy Prints isn’t just a state-of-the-genre address—a redress, really—it’s arguably the most consistently entertaining Plaid release in more than a decade.
This album’s almost tender compared to the London duo’s last two major releases. Most of the songs feel brighter than Greedy Baby, and a bunch of 4/4 time signatures make this a less knotty affair than Scintilli. Swirling, jittery, constantly changing synth figures like those in “Hawkmoth” feel like music taking a leisurely walk, and the album is bookended by songs that coolly use layers of orchestral instruments: autoharp and mandolin in the slowly growing “Oh,” woodwinds in the spry “Liverpool St.”
“Nafovanny” sounds built from one of the drum samples that gave Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” its bite, as if it were a disarming remix. “Martin Lunaire” recalls Orbital’s electro funkiness, while “Tether” reaches into the dark to grasp at synthpop and industrial’s jagged edges. Diehard Plaid listeners might be a little disappointed that Reachy Prints doesn’t feel so experimental, but easier access once in a while isn’t all bad.
Besides, easier access feels like the point Plaid are trying to make here. Why be stuck in what DJ Dave Clarke recently called in Mixmag “a vehicle for ego-centric artists to expand their wallets”? Reachy Prints gives the Aviciis and Swedish House Mafias of the world a blueprint for acceptance beyond the great unwashed partying masses and into the ranks of the musical literati. Just because you’re playing to packed houses doesn’t mean you’re making a contribution; just because you’re a boutique performer like Plaid doesn’t mean you’re not.