Spokes (Warp)

Jan 7, 2004 at 4:00 am
If you've ever poked your head in the IDM romper room, the first thing you probably noticed were the petulant children -- Autechre, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin -- demanding attention, throwing Ritalin-deprived tantrums with their fractured, glitchy logarithms. Meanwhile, over there in the corner, you might have seen those Plaid lads gaily painting playful, oft-pretty aural pictures and offering them up with timid pride.

On their latest release, though, it sounds like Andy Turner and Ed Handley have been hanging out with the troubled kids. Spokes sports beats more twitchy, synthscapes more anxious and an overall mood more unsettling than what's generally found in the whimsically warm Plaid canon. Of course, this added tension isn't always a bad thing. For instance, the opener, "Even Spring," begins as a gentle cradle song haunted by guest vocalist Lucca Santucci's spectral lament, then jarringly descends into squelchy mania about halfway through -- and it works. The luring melody is reconfigured, not lost. But the paranoid electro of "Crumax Bins," the fidgety clicks and whirs that reside in "Upona" and the cut-up, Alien-esque shudder of "Zeal" all feel like the self-inflated difficultronica of its peers shoehorned into the Plaid aesthetic, diluting the duo's unique charm with tedious, well-worn abstractions.

Fortunately, there's the sublime, anti-gravity beauty of "B Born Droid," delicately paced with an Asian-flavored dreaminess, and the ticklish, steel-drum-infused "Get What You Gave" to help save the day. Spokes deserves neither scorn nor aggrandizement, but Turner and Handley really should spend playtime by themselves from now on.