Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb
or all of its obvious physicality, techno often has a real bitch of a time being actively sensual. It's part of the blueprint, in a way—the motorik-derived beat emerging from the Motor City has never tried to avoid the fact that mechanical rhythms and hard pavement have a whole lot in common. As sci-fi escapism goes, it's a lot more 2001 and a lot less Barbarella. Even the name itself is sexless—"tech-no." Try intoning it over some Barry White strings and watch the chicks scuttle away. Of course, the rise of downtempo and the trend towards hip-hop and dub-inflected arrangements allowed for a much warmer, more organic palette of sounds to come into play—it was enough to believe for a moment that here, at last, were some electronic music artists that actually got laid. Turns out all they were doing was smoking way too much hash.
Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb are a relatively new name on the scene, but 2006 feels far more accomplished than debut records usually have a right to. It slowly builds and unfolds around a strict, but not stringent bag of tricks, discovering itself and its own will to variety in a way that sounds thrilling and natural. It's loads sexier than most techno/house to boot—without playing the usual cheesy cards, the layering of sounds here is attuned to the body and a feeling of motion intercut with stillness. This ain't the 90's, so I'm not going to say it takes one on a journey, but it certainly leaves the impression of a beginning, middle, and end. It's precisely what makes it so liveable, so human. Even when the gurgling organics of a song like "Today" are cut through with a barely-filtered analog waveform, it feels a part of the whole—as fitting as coming across a discarded hubcab in the Sahara.
So, 2006 is neither a bowl of ambient noodles nor a pumping house monster. Even within the (purely tempo- and texture-based) distinctions of electronic genre-slotting, it's not an easy record to quantify. It is, however, quite easy to listen to: the feel is fluid and consistent, but wide-ranging, traveling from clouds-dripping moodiness to electro-thrust goofiness to buoyant funk spaciousness without compromising warmth, accessibility, or dynamic interplay. There's also a feeling here that Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb are limiting their palette of sounds, which is partially responsible for the cohesiveness, despite varied tempos and terrains. Slight vocals appear on a few tracks—a female voice on the only fully-sung track "Cash on Time," some wordless intonation on "Zukunft," and a man repeating the phrase "I work out constantly" to rather humorous effect on "Shift." Unlike many instances when vocals are added to a techno album seemingly just to engender variety or novelty, these small touches feel perfectly apt. And while most of the tracks are instrumental, there's a feeling of just enough personality to provide distinction to tunes like "Mardi Gras," where a floppy house beat is frivolous without being carnival-esque; or "18 Years," which sounds like Fila Brazilia climbing aboard the Chicago Trax spaceship and setting the controls for Tau Ceti.
The record ends, appropriately enough, with "Last," a pure tone-poem of warm white noise, undercut by a jigsaw throb. It evokes the primordial ocean, a sense of water-borne stillness sweeping over the restless, inquisitive nature of the rest of the record, and it's a fine close to one of the year's best electronic albums—scratch that, one of the year's best albums in any genre, as complex and multihued as anything we've heard of late. Bravo to those, like Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb (whoever the hell they are), who don't use the techno longplayer as an excuse to plod through 14 variations on the same staid idea, stifling any awkward inclination in the name of Demon Consistency. It makes for a less immediate response, but this is an album designed for longevity, not quick returns. Something to play while you cook, write, or make freaky love—the soundtrack to a life, not its substitute.