Plat: Compulsion

Plat is another in an ongoing stream of groups hailing from Iceland, but the group's sound is radically unlike that of its better-known compatriots Múm and Sigur Rós. To some degree that's attributable to Arnar Helgi Adalsteinsson and Vilhjalmur Pálsson's unusual creative approach as the duo records virtually everything they play and later sculpts the material into final form. Their hallucinogenic acoustic-electronic mix sounds both organically fluid yet deliberately considered—cool, experimental music perhaps, but one that never loses its soul.

While Plat's music generally resists easy categorization, many songs on Compulsion, the group's Unschooled debut, build upon a hazy post-rock core. “Aftur (Recurrence) Fakemix,” for example, openly flirts with the genre by pairing a relatively conventional drumbeat with dissonant shards of electric guitar noodling and warped synth splatter. Somewhat more conventional is “Kverkatak (Stranglehold)” with its slamming soul-funk beat, jazzy piano accents, and scuppered guitar work. Still, straightforward moments like these are rare as the duo typically transforms its music's post-rock core into eleven haunted atmospheres that are best likened to convulsive, morphing organisms. Themes are implied rather than baldly stated, with vestigial traces merging together to suggest a given track's theme. Like a blurred landscape viewed through a hurtling train's foggy window, Plat's heaving coagulant masses seem to naturally drift in and out of focus.

The bold opener “Pæling (Muse)” is typical in this regard. While a core of drums, guitars, and synths resides at the song's rumbling center, ripples, clacks, ghostly voices, and shudders reshape the piece into a congealing, textured mass. This approach often produces startlingly lovely results. The stirring oasis “Blindfold,” for instance, demonstrates perfectly how disparate sounds can cohere so ably into a subtly-defined structure. A simple bass line acts as an anchor for the bright synth glissandi and piercing guitars that ripple and echo throughout. Effective too is the noisy “Trainers” where meteor showers of drum clatter, spiky guitar stabs, and moans meld to etch a sombre theme. Other pieces alternate between contrasting styles, like the stately, at times Asian sounding “Plat” which fluctuates between aggressive pounding and peaceful ambience. An amorphous mass of aqueous ripples and skitter dominates the start of “Árátta (Compulsion)” but it's gradually joined by a vaguely defined rhythm that, like a lumbering animal, rises and gathers force, despite being surrounded by seething swirls.

There's not a weak piece in the lot, and contrasts of mood and style maintain interest throughout. What ultimately impresses most about Compulsion, though, is how convincingly Plat shapes such abstract material into accessible pieces that straddle improvised and composed realms with such seeming ease.

February 2005