Plaid: Greedy Baby

As a long-time Plaid listener, I was curious to hear how much Greedy Baby would be different from the Plaid of Not For Threes, Rest Proof Clockwork, Double Figure, and Spokes and the answer is… not much. A good or bad thing, depending on your disposition: fans will devour these buoyant confections by Ed Handley and Andy Turner; detractors will grumble that Greedy Baby advances little if at all on the group's signature sound. But it is a significant chapter in the group's story in one regard: one can enjoy it as a nine-song CD collection, or experience it as an audio-visual project (in 5.1 Surround Sound) created by Plaid with Brighton-based video artist Bob Jaroc.

The music disc presents 52 trademark minutes of woozy clockwork melodies, off-kilter shuffles, and elastic tempo treatments. Three tracks in particular stand out: a luxuriant 10-minute duration gives “E.M.R” room to organically morph from a dreamy oasis to a percolating broil of clattering beats and chiming chords and back again; boosted by a snappy acoustic bass pulse, “The Return Of Super Barrio” takes Plaid's toyshop collection of kalimbas and steel drums for a Latin America and Caribbean cruise; and, reminiscent of early Scanner, the brooding soundscape “War Dialler” noisily smothers found recordings of callers responding to a hacking utility's voice message.

In truth, the CD should be viewed as the bonus disc, as the project is designed to be broached in audio-visual terms. With each of the songs given a unique treatment, Jaroc brings stylistic variety to Plaid's music, making the ride a constantly unpredictable one. Apparently, there's an underlying Quantum Theory thread but, without being prompted, many a viewer would likely miss the connection. But no matter: even if one failed to discern an overall theme, the flawlessly executed material could still be enjoyed as a pleasure dome of sensory stimulation. Sometimes visuals are abstract (the geometrical circles and levers in “War Dialler” that are cued to the caller's increasingly desperate voices, the spirograph-like, symmetrical shapes that flash in time against a black ground in “Super Positions,” translucent forms of vaporous trails in “E.M.R”), at other times representational (a nocturnal orange sky swarming with thousands of birds in “To,” 360 degree panoramas of cityscapes that accelerate to blinding blurs in “I Citizen The Loathsome,” and impressionistic footage of a desolate metro platform, dental office, and outdoor elevator in Japan). Surprisingly, the most captivating is also the most 'basic': “The Return of Super Barrio,” a cartoon about a real-life Mexican superhero wrestler who fights against corruption and social injustice. (The DVD also includes four older pieces: “Crumax Rins” from Spokes, which features dizzyingly fast screen captures of CNN news footage about the war in Iraq, and three Double Figure treatments: “Assault On Precinct Zero,” essentially Plaid concert tour footage, plus “Zala” and “New Family.”) What stands out most in the collaboration is the simpatico synchronization between Jaroc's visuals and Plaid's music. No musical leap, perhaps, but definitely an advance of a slightly different kind.

August 2006