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Eaux – Plastics

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Eaux - PlasticsEven though the members of Eaux have been making music together since 2006, originally as the post-rock band the Sian Alice Group, Plastics seems entirely of the moment, firmly rooted in the present, in its anachronism. That’s not to say Eaux are bandwagon-hopping, rather that they are an example of something in the air, a cultural tendency, a drift. They can be seen as a microcosm of the underground, with an interest and emphasis on exploratory instrumental post-rock, back in 2006, giving way to this style of hypermodern synth pop.

Plastics holds to a basic template of solid, gliding House beats, adorned with drum machine abstractions and levels and layers of analog synths, over which Sian Ahern‘s distant, disembodied vocals float and soar. This blending of ethereal, Cocteau Twins-esque vocals with dance floor beats can be found in bands from all over the world, from Sweden’s First Aid Kit to Portland, Oregon’s Pure Bathing Culture, to London’s Factory Floor.

I think this tendency can be seen, in part, as a reaction to the sheer overwhelming possibilities of electronic music, which can be ultimately liberating, but also counter-productive with its infinite options. Producers can get lost in perfectionism, spending weeks finding that perfect high hat or kick drum sound, and never finish anything. To counteract this tendency, Eaux have focused on electronics that could be replicated live. Sian Ahern physically manipulates and triggers samples on a drum machine, which leaves room for experimentation and improvisation, putting a dose of unpredictability in the normally clean-cut world of electronic production. Samples fall in and out in unexpected places, still clean and mnml, but more haphazard and incongruous. It is like a gypsy blanket, woven out of nanofiber technology; or a mechanical ballerina, constructed out of scrap parts.

Lyrically, Eaux take inspiration from classic New Wave science fiction of the ’70s and ’80s, not that you’d be able to tell that without liner notes or a press release to follow along. Ahern’s words are gauzy and obscured, in classic shoegaze fashion, more of a texture than a cohesive, concrete narrative. Something to hold the attention, and give some humanity to the technological proceedings. Plastics‘ press release invokes the Bladerunner skyline, and refers to the record like some long lost audio curiosity discovered in a box of old records. The difference is that, while the futurists of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were anticipating and predicting the future, Plastics emanates from inside that future. Ahern’s vocals, subdued and distant, could be seen as the human spirit, contending with this confusing postmodern world we are living in.

Of course, theory don’t mean a thing if a record doesn’t sound good. No one will listen, and pick up on yr subliminal stories. “Synthpop” records face a double challenge, in that they must succeed as both “songs” and on the dancefloor. That’s where Eaux really shine, as every ingredient on Plastics shines and rumbles. The basslines are sculpted out of square waves that will call up skewed Atari memories for those old enough to remember Pitfall and Pole Position, while crystalline sequencers trace neon sigils in the air, like watching the sound of a pachinko parlour in the distance. The beats are solidly constructed, constantly shifting, holding and keeping yr interest. Plastics does function as a dancefloor record, but not an ecstatic one, not meant for big room euphoria. It’s not exactly melancholy, either. Wistful would be a word. Yearning. This is the soundtrack to our new dance party, more introverted and soul-searching. Dancing with eyes closed, as disco ball light reflects on our eyelids. It’s like walking into yr favourite faded photograph, and building a night club.

The only downside to Plastics, and Eaux’s live analogue approach, is that the recordings can end up as flat as the album title. It’s only a downside if you don’t like that kind of thing. The effect IS like watching some obscure, retro-futuristic film, on an old TV screen. It’s 2D, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not immersive or engaging. It just means that Eaux are aware of the fact that they’re making a record, and are playing with that fact. Still, it’s a more avant-garde approach, that will prevent many DJs from slipping this platter in.

But if you like to make yr life more like a rusted, neon cyberpunk flick, this is yr jam.

A very promising debut. One to watch.

-J Simpson-

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