In the early 1990's I developed a taste for ambient music thanks to techno groups like the Orb, Orbital, FSOL, KLF and various entities on the Warp label. By definition ambient music shouldn't engage your mind or body to the point of distraction - it should exist in the background like wall paper, or a soundtrack score, adding to the mood without forcing you to pay attention or "shake your booty." The Warp label, host to bands like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, µ-ZIQ and the Black Dog Project, challenged notions of what was ambient by presenting musicians who were so groundbreaking and clever, that listeners had no choice but to listen.
Somewhere along the line the Warp group Black Dog Project disbanded and partially reformed as Plaid. Their first album, the excellent and recommended Not For Threes, was a small departure from the Black Dog sound which was gentle, electronic and synthetic. Not For Threes introduced some acoustic piano, bass and drum beats into the mix, but Plaid still sounded like Black Dog.
Rest Proof Clockwork is a significant change. The majority of the music on this album sounds like it could have been played by a live jazz band, with some assistance from a hip-hop DJ and a small chamber orchestra. Rest Proof Clockwork is a mixture of many music styles and moods, borrowing from just about every dance music genre*. Shakbu and Little People are soulful stews of hip-hop ingredients, reminiscent of Money Mark and DJ Shadow. Gel Lab and Ralome have liquidly delicious jazz grooves. Tearisci and Dead Sea are powerful excerpts from an imaginary movie soundtrack. Dang Spots, their one and only dance track, has the Euro-techno flavor of Daft Punk. Plaid somehow makes this array of styles work, well, like clockwork.
Plaid's perfect mixture of analog and electronic instrumentation betrays their musical talent: it's obvious that they are true musicians first and not some hacks simply looping samples or laying some echo on a two finger keyboard riff. Listen to the world class jazzy keys on Shackbu, or the eerie, intricate melodies of Gel Lab and Pino Pomo, and you'll hear what I mean.
I enjoy listening to Plaid when I'm programming**, or writing. The music seems to capture any stray thoughts, allowing me to concentrate on the matters at hand. Beyond listening to Plaid while in front of a computer, just about anytime you want to relax is fine, 'spark up,' or whatever pleases you. Plaid, more importantly, is perfect for romance.
If you're a fan of Plaid, Black Dog or pretty much any Warp band, you shouldn't miss this album. If you're a fan of Big Beat acts like Propellerheads, Chemical Brothers, Crystal Method or Fratboy Slim, and you're looking for something much more mellow but with familiar flavors, Plaid is for you too. Plaid: ambient, yet completely engaging.
*With the exception of harsher styles like Happy Hardcore, Gabber, Big Beat, Industrial, Coleco Midlife Crisis, etc.
**Although lately I prefer brutal death metal like Cannibal Corpse and Macabre.