PLAID Not For Threes (Warp)

Plaid used to be two-thirds of the seminal intelligent techno outfit The Black Dog, before fellow member Ken Downie made off with the name and all their equipment, making last year’s puzzling, dismal "Music For Adverts (& Short Films)" with it. Plaid (their name also being an early Black Dog pseudonym) have responded with this enigmatically titled debut album, complete with cover photos of what look like items of Heath Robinson-esque medical or engineering equipment.

In the old days, around the time of the "(Bytes)" compilation and the "Temple Of Transparent Balls" album, The Black Dog used to be the embodiment of everything that was good about the intelligent techno movement, as popularised by Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series of releases: they made thumping dance tunes that you could actually think about, and which sounded just as good, if not better, when you were sitting down. Their second album, "Spanners", was diluted by short interludes and acres of Greek mythology, so when the Ken Downie-model Black Dog album was seen to consist of pretty much nothing but short interludes and acres of Greek mythology, it looked as if the Plaid duo had escaped with the best bits.

Well, sort of. "Not For Threes" is an interesting album. Much of it confirms to the old intelligent techno blueprint, for example the way opening track "Abla" seems to consist of several different fragments of tune being played at the same time. "Eedio" is an unusually, and agreeably, funky little number, and "Myopia" jangles and clangs in a restrained Latin carnival-y stylee. There’s guest spots from ex-Massive Attack chanteuse Nicolette (Plaid played (pun unintended) and produced parts of her "Let No-One Live Rent Free In Your Head" album) and the omnipresent Björk, although their contributions are the usual strangely unmemorable famous-vocalist-on-dance-music-album token efforts at snagging a wider market for some fairly unmarketable music (think of Björk and Bernard Sumner’s efforts on 808 State’s "Ex:El" album, for instance...if you can).

The unfortunate thing about Plaid’s music is that their antiseptic detachment sounds a bit old-fashioned in these days of big beat Chemical Brothers/Underworld/Daft Punk largeness. It’s as if they think dance music should be made by people wearing lab coats in sterile, clean-room conditions while everyone else is out mashing up huge, thumptastic anthems in clubs, pubs and other unhygienic places. In sticking so resolutely to their guns they’ve fashioned a kind of wallpaper, dinner-party techno that’s too confusing for the listener to decode so just gets ignored. Meanwhile the rest of the world is pole-vaulting the language barrier by shouting their message louder and faster.