Plaid's New Album 'Polymer' Reflects Our Dark Times, But Don't Call It a Concept Album

"I totally want to hear new things and new ideas, but I also want to hear good music too, and it doesn't necessarily have to have an angle"
Plaid's New Album 'Polymer' Reflects Our Dark Times, But Don't Call It a Concept Album
Photo: Tim Saccenti
The first thing you'll notice about Plaid's new album, Polymer, is that it's got a bit more bite than their usual fare. The British duo of Andy Turner and Ed Handley have long been purveyors of wistful, almost childlike IDM, and while they still have that in spades, there's a gloomier tone permeating their new material.
"We weren't necessarily trying to capture any particular spirit, but after everything was put together, we noticed that it [the album] definitely had a darker edge," Turner tells Exclaim! in a recent interview. "Obviously the political climate is nuts at the moment, and there are various world-shattering situations on the near horizon. There are things happening here in Britain right now that are undeniably pretty dark, and I think that you reflect the situation you're in. It has been a really grim few years, so it's not really surprising that the album turned out like this."

"Brexit is just making a lot of people pretty miserable," Handley adds. "It's hugely damaging for this country, and we still don't have any idea what's going to happen. It has divided us as a nation, but I have very little sympathy for the people who voted for it. I can't really find any common ground with them on that issue. It's completely unnecessary too, which is probably the most frustrating thing about it. Perhaps Europe needed reforming, just like any big organization does, but this is just an insane way to go about it."

Obviously, tensions are high in Britain at the moment, and Polymer is a tense album, but it's not a political one. While it may have soaked up some of the atmospheric unrest floating around out there, the record isn't actively about anything — and it suits the record finely. We are undoubtedly in an age of concept albums, about everything from fiery daydreams — like Flying Lotus's new record, Flamagra — to Holly Herndon's experiments with artificial intelligence on her recent PROTO release, but a concept isn't always crucial.

"We tend to stay away from concepts," Turner says. "Our albums are generally just a series of musical efforts over a period of time, with a bit of fine-tuning. I totally want to hear new things and new ideas, but I also want to hear good music too, and it doesn't necessarily have to have an angle."

Case in point, Polymer is simply 13 tracks of solid music. Plaid haven't tacked any life-shattering ideas to it. They've actually done something far trickier: they made a record that sounds fresh without losing their signature sound. This was only made more difficult by the fact that the sound in question has been around since 1991, but the duo isn't here to gaze in the rear-view mirror.

"We're generally pretty forward-looking, in the sense that we're quite into new ways of making music and new types of synthesis," Handley explains. "Part of our love of music is the technical side, as well the sonic aspect. We're always looking at new ways of doing things. There isn't much nostalgia for old analogue synths or anything — although, there's obviously a certain sound to them that's rich and warm compared to digital stuff — but we were quite glad to get rid of the bloody things. They're big, they go wrong, they're difficult to lug around and just really expensive. Software has enabled making music for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford it. So, it was sort of like a revolution for us, and one we've stuck with it."

What was once Amiga computers and bulky hardware has now been streamlined to programs like Ableton Live and Logic. Plaid even build their own sequencers inside a digital sampler / synth called Falcon, just to give everything an extra push. They're clearly still innovating after 28 years together, and who knows where it will end.
"We're like brothers, really," says Handley. "We've known each other so long that it would be weird not to be together. I reckon we'd still be making music with each other even if we had to pick up drums and guitars."
"Unless they were particularly heavy," Turner adds. "There's got to be a line somewhere, mate."
Polymer is out June 7 via Warp Records.