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Published: 2002/04/22
by Jesse Jarnow

self-titled – Plexus

Mother West 0057-2

"Look, bub, music doesn't progress, it's not a fucking technology," Mike
Doughty wrote in "I Like It Warm and Fuzzy". "New sounds can be found – very, very rarely – but not new emotions." Well, maybe. That's a tough one
to counter, if only because it's so bloody impossible to qualify emotions,
to map them out and describe them. It's a hard argument to make. Doughty has
a good point, though. His band, Soul Coughing, used technology in an
interesting way to produce their sound — jungle beats, samples, etc.. They
were the epitome of technological music in the sense that they used all the
tools available to them. On top of it, though, rode Doughty's plaintive
songs which were, in their way, quite traditional. No, Soul Coughing didn't
invent or access any new emotion, per se, but they did create new ways to
access old emotions. That was what made them compelling, somehow, and that
is a show of progression.

Plexus is an advanced band. There has always been music that revolved around
new music-making technologies, from Jimi Hendrix to Kraftwerk to Aphex Twin.
In recent years, there have been repeated attempts to imitate electronic
devices on acoustic instruments. And, by acoustic instrument, I mean any
instrument where there is a direct correlation between the movement of the
body (rhythm, position of the hand, etc.) and the sound produced. Plexus do
this. These are the basics: they are a trio – guitar, bass, drums (all of
them program, as well) – and their sound is a harder edged, purer techno
than any of the other bands that've come along (The New Deal, The Disco
Biscuits, Sector 9, etc.). It's dance music, yes, but there's also complex
stuff to listen to.

It is definitely nighttime music, city lights blurring by, or highway lines
disappearing under the car. It's even futuristic, which is such a damn weird
word to apply to music, and maybe it shows my age. It sounds like the music
of the future, like the music of bubble cities and the like. Of course,
that's definitely not a universal. In twenty years, this won't sound
futuristic. More curiously, this might not even sound futuristic now to some
folks. This might sound perfectly contemporary. What part of their sound is
it that gives it these qualities?

It's not too hard to imagine Tobias Ralph playing these drumbeats. It's
impressive, yes, but they were parts that were well within the reach of any
decent drummer since the trap kit was invented. They are rigid, fast, and
mechanical, as well — technically impressive for a live drummer (which is
part of the reason why all emulations of electronica have the tendency to
sound a bit gimmicky from time to time). The rest of the parts, especially
Ernie Adventoivich's basslines, are exceedingly simple. So, one the
futuristic qualities, then, lies in the relationship between the parts:
humanly disconnected, but also so mathematically aligned that it sounds as
if they were computer generated.

Abstract sounds that couldn't've been generated by acoustic instruments have
formed the bedrock of much music since the introduction of the synthesizer.
Certainly, most '80s music didn't sound futuristic, even at the time. This
does. It imitates not only non-acoustic sounds, but sounds with hard edges
that almost give off the illusion of having been discarded or accidentally
created by technology itself. They are scraps, at least in the sense that
they are designed not to sound deliberate but, rather, stamped out of
something pre-existing.

Plexus creates a very old emotion, indeed: the yearning for the future;
looking out past personal frailties, to an abstract paradise no different
than any other Edenic utopia. In that sense, it is a fantasy album: it
assumes that the world has actually made it to that promised land of the
Space Age.

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