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Review: Plaster – Platforms (2011)

Plaster – Platforms (2011)

How I found this album is actually pretty funny. I was looking for the latest release on iTunes from Plaster, a Montreal electro-jazz band. Here's a sample of what they sound like; I love this track:

https://myspace.com/plasterfirstaidkit/music/song/square-wave-21881461-21682646

iTunes doesn't differentiate well between different bands with the same name, so Platforms came up in the search. It was released more recently, so I took a listen. This is what I found:

https://soundcloud.com/kvitnu/plaster-component

It's a completely different artist (obvious if you listen to the two tracks). This one sounds like some sort of hybrid between Nine Inch Nails and Monolake's Momentum. It was a great discovery; I since have gotten all of their released albums, and they're all good. But I have to say this one is still my favorite, which is why it's getting a review.

The sound engineering on this disc is amazing. Everything is crisp and well-placed on the sound stage. There are a lot of subtle hints of sounds on the edges, which enhance the depth of the experience of what is forceful and menacing music. There are very nice contrasts between sounds in front with no reverb on top of more processed ambiences in the back. This isn't a super-uncommon technique these days, but it is used to full effect here.

Platforms opens with a short ambient intro, which warms us up for listening to the subtle background effects. It only takes about 5-10 seconds of Component to have a good sense of what's coming. The beginning is very sparse with just a low menacing keyboard line with really crisp high-frequency percussion sounds and a heavy beat. Ambient atmosphere floats around all this for the first two minutes, and then the main distorted keyboard line comes in. From here on out it builds intensity without losing its focus. On first listen, when I thought it had reached its peak, it added even more.

After another hard-hitting track and a machinistic interlude,  Intersection comes on and gives us a gentle contrast to everything else. Plaster's hard edge is still apparent in the timbre of the sounds, but we get acoustic guitar, soft keyboards and no drums. I like to say that you can tell how good a hard-edged artist is by how good their softer tracks are; likewise you can tell how good a soft-edged artist is by how good their harder tracks are. These show flexibility of composition, and often bring a different sensibility to the "out-of-place" tracks. As a side note, check out The Orb's "A Mile Long Lump of Lard" for an example of a generally softer-sounded artist doing something really heavy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjHyIOzH--4).

Component, Intersection and Rearline are the standout tracks on a collection of really solid music. Rearline reminds us of Component by starting out with a sparse heaviness and layering in more elements as it goes. Where it diverges is that halfway through light shines in through the oppressive atmosphere (which remains) for an interesting contrast.

For listeners who like the general sound of Nine Inch Nails but are looking for something more instrumental and abstract, this is a great place to go. Albums in this style can easily fall into sameness where the different tracks don't stand out from each other; but each composition on Platforms has something unique to say.

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