Plaid 

Spokes

If you've poked your head in the IDM romper room recently, 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 could find those Plaid lads gaily painting playful, oft-pretty aural pictures and offering them up with sheepish pride.

On Plaid's latest release, though, it sounds as if 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. Opener "Even Spring" begins as a gentle cradlesong haunted by guest vocalist Luca Santucci's spectral lament, then jarringly descends into squelchy mania about halfway through. Here, 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 Alien-esque shudder of "Zeal" all feel like the self-inflated difficultronica of their peers shoehorned into the Plaid aesthetic, diluting the duo's unique charm with tedious, well-worn abstractions.

Fortunately there's the sublime, antigravity 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 be spending playtime by themselves from now on.

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