Plike – Red Queen White Queen – Album Review
If you recently tuned into the latest episode of the SBS Podcast, you’ve already been introduced to the intensely emotional and atmospheric sounds of Plike through the first track from Red Queen, White Queen, called “The Proving Grounds.” I played it because I felt like this was not just the first great experience you get in listening to this record…but because this truly had a subtly empowering vibe in the mix that really felt like Plike was staking her claim and seriously embracing this moment in time. There’s a confidence you can hear in the flow of the movement and the sound selection…it glides sleekly along and everything we hear continually finds a way to close in on us, enveloping us in a truly extraordinary atmosphere that has gorgeous melody, depth and texture to it. I played “The Proving Grounds” because I felt like it best represented the sentiment that Plike’s time has truly come.
The exquisite production on “The Proving Grounds” quickly becomes a staple part of Em’s repertoire, transitioning with the sound of an air-horn & explosion leading into the more desolate, isolated and haunting textures of “Never Always.” With a piano melody-line leading the way strongly, much of the verse almost comes out sounding like a music-box of sort…the old-school kind where you’d open up some weird looking thing that would play music for you. It has an innocence to it like that…but the haunting way the tones come out give it a twisted, dark & emotional layer that works completely well for Plike. Each movement of “Never Always” creeps eerily forward, but beautifully all the same. Vocals sound gorgeous and I love how they’re right in the swell of the mix of the music…everything in combination becomes the star of what we hear rather than any one specific element.
We know from our past interview with Em from Plike that a lot of this album was created around the themes of ‘mental illness’…this becomes more prevalent on “Stigmatized.” Not too much mind you…Plike is subtle in the sense that you’re more than likely not going to catch every word as it goes by, but the ones that do will certainly pique your interest. From the inviting sound of “Stigmatized” and what we’ve heard so far…I’d certainly be willing to entertain the notion that this album is actually about ‘mental wellness’ when everything we here is so soothing to the mind, body & soul like this. Again personally, I love the way that the music envelops the words within the shroud of Em’s sound…they still displays completely perfect tones and makes massive contributions to the melodies overall. The music of “Stigmatized” is brilliantly unique and incredibly effective…truly the kind of music that transports you to another atmosphere altogether. This particular tune slightly reminded me of the intense writing you find in powerful acts like Cat Power or Bat For Lashes…there’s real substance in the music that Plike is creating…this is music that seriously lasts. The electro-violin sounds that run through a vast majority of “Stigmatized” became absolutely hypnotic to me…I felt like with that, the soaring & emotional vocals and the huge percussion sounds…well…I felt like I could have left this song to repeat forever. Were it not for the fact that there’s much more to comment on throughout Red Queen, White Queen…I very well just MIGHT have left this on repeat all damn day…”Stigmatized” was aces.
But then…you see…there she goes again! Nearing the 1:30 mark…okay, more like 1:20 cause you all know I’m specific like that…but nevermind my OCD and LISTEN to the brilliant way the chords move and change right around this time on “Rabbit Hole” as the song begins to truly take shape. “Rabbit Hole” to say the least! I’d pretty much follow this artist anywhere by this point in the record…you know…as non-stalker-ish-ly as I could of course. But seriously…Plike continues to prove just how much depth, skill and talent exists in this project through the expert slow-groove of “Rabbit Hole” and its expert production, structure & flow. The vocals whisper beautifully and dreamily…the atmosphere in the music is like an electro-version of The Cure’s entire catalog…melancholy melody that truly resonates and connects to our innermost emotions.
Em reminds me quickly just how much of a sucker I am for piano-led melancholy as “A Bottle Marked Poison” began. With a sample-vocal & crash breaking the song from the intro and into gear – I mean…c’mon people…this is powerful stuff! I love how I feel like I can genuinely feel each of the emotions in Plike’s music without having to grasp each and every word…the ones we do catch are beautifully haunting and entirely memorable. Just around the two-minute of “A Bottle Marked Poison,” she pivots just slightly and begins to make the most magical switch into one of the real highlight moments for me on Red Queen, White Queen…I thought this song ended on the strongest of notes throughout its entire final minute.
One of the most transformative and hypnotic atmospheres on this record exists on “Stage Five.” You could also make an argument for it being one of the most expressive tunes on the entire album without having any real ‘words’ but still having an incredible vocal performance to accompany the music. Proving the notion that the voice is truly an instrument…everything you hear on “Stage Five” sounds absolutely breathtaking from the microphone. Combined with the electro-string combination and subtle beat…”Stage Five” weaves, evolves, builds and grows in really rad ways to listen to. I found this was another incredibly captivating tune that really let my mind wander right into the Plike universe.
Good progression and great production on “Dust,” which is a track that gathers much of its steam as it builds. Another solid combination of the hazy, dreamy, tense & pensive atmospheres Em can create…and another fine example of how she can really let the power loose when the vocals step into the mix and the energy in the music rises around them. “Dust” kind of reminded me of some of the deadly last tracks or later-tunes you’d find on the early records from Garbage…great mix of electro and texture here…all layered out and designed in ways that audibly stick to you. Really gorgeous work on that electro-string line…at times it was all I could hear…truly beautiful stuff and accompanied by the way that the words drift out into the mix, “Dust” became a very powerful listening experience.
As far as I know from our interview with Em, the vocals we’ve been hearing on this record have been provided by Holly Drummond and Francesca Genco – so HUGE shout out to them because they have really brought their absolute best to this record in ways I could only imagine Em is extremely proud of and pleased with. Incorporating one more guest-star into the mix, ASH is featured on the final track “Headroom” to end Red Queen, White Queen on another spectacular highlight. Seriously…Plike has got a massive future if this is the quality we can expect and the depth of atmosphere that we can rely on…there are SO MANY places for music like this from playlists to soundtracks out there. I absolutely love the slow-burning intensity of this final cut and after listening to it complete, I can certainly vouch for Plike being one of the most extraordinary sounds we’ve uncovered throughout this year. Listen to the sparkling clarity in the production of “Headroom” and the absolutely stunning melody that runs through the theme of the music…the music of Plike has had me 100% mesmerized throughout the entire listen of Red Queen White Queen and I’ve certainly been going back for more on repeat since getting ahold of this record.
As a side-note…my shortlist for best new sound of 2016 seems to be getting longer…and there’s no doubt in my mind that Plike’s new record has all the uniqueness and professionalism in performance, writing and production that it doesn’t just belong at the top of my own list – it belongs at the top of yours too. The incredible atmospheres Em’s assembled are truly otherworldly, unique and breathtaking – everything about Red Queen, White Queen has a strong, bold checkmark in the win column.
Find out more about Plike from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvgHSfR_-8-J4NgzxKbpu6Q
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