As hard as it is to believe that Warp Records mainstays Plaid have been making experimental electronic music now for over twenty-five years, it’s even harder to believe that they’ve managed to do without markedly adjusting their basic formula for success. Plaid have staked out a well-defined musical territory for themselves by choosing on each new record to continually mine their existing plot of land rather than explore new terrain elsewhere. Their latest album, the appropriately named The Digging Remedy, reiterates that the Plaid game plan remains intact.
Luckily for Plaid, their game plan has usually been a pretty good one. Their music is a unique strain of listenable, hyper-melodic experimental electronic music that fits the frequently maligned tag “Intelligent Dance Music” all while sounding truly like no one else. They’ve also never made a truly bad album, which isn’t easy to say for a band who’ve been together that long, both in their current incarnation as Plaid and in the past life as the Black Dog with Ken Downie (anywhere from 10 to 15 records depending on how you’re counting). If nothing else, the Plaid blueprint is strong, unique and reliable.
The Plaid coming to us now on The Digging Remedy is in a sort of fourth stage: from the early Black Dog years running from ‘91-‘95; to the first Warp trifecta golden era of ‘95-02; to the experiments and soundtracks of ‘03-’12; and finally in 2014, they hit a wizened, back-to-basics phase. 2014’s Reachy Prints returned to the warm tones and friendly melodies that had worked so well for them over the previous twenty years. Now, two years later, The Digging Remedy picks up where its predecessor left off.
One tradition that The Digging Remedy also carries on is the somewhat odd placement of an album opener that is distinct (and often superior) from anything else on its accompanying record. 2001’s Double Figure opener “Eyen,” with it’s fade-in intro, circular acoustic guitar arpeggio and coo-ing choral vocals sounded beautiful and stands out from the rest of the album. The first two minutes of “Even Spring” from 2003’s Spokes, featuring Leila-collaborator Luca Santucci’s ghostly vocals, sounded even further away (before returning to “standard Plaid” mid-song). And Scintilli’s delightfully exquisite “missing” is perhaps the most unique track in their catalog, incorporating vocals not for lyricism but as a new instrument. On The Digging Remedy, lead track “Do Matter” lays down a tone of ominous, reflective menace that feels like a perfect development for the band: after years of playfulness and warmth, the idea of imagining a darkwave Plaid record that turns that warmth into nightmare feels like a potential home run.