UTR040 | CD / LP | 11 tracks, 34 minutes | November 2010 | Buy
Their self-titled debut album takes these firm foundations and expands them gloriously, adding extra vocal takes, synth and drum machine whilst retaining the stripped back meticulousness found in the very best 'pop' productions. 'PLUG' is a record written with the intention of perfecting each track, encapsulating a chosen style in their own eyes (and ears), populating their tunes with characters similarly chosen to fit the nature of each song.
This detachment from the subject matter allows them an implicit critique on the attitudes espoused, our attitudes. More often than not, a tongue is firmly planted in a cheek, but not in the "irony squared" sense... this is old-school irony! PLUG have plenty to say about our own perceptions and those of our wider culture. It's not spelled out directly for the listener in bold type, but there's definitely more than meets the ear with this record.
All this aside, 'PLUG' is still predominantly a pop album, with a modernist non-narrative, an unflinching eye trained through an open window into all our lives. First track proper, "Don't Forget It" leaps from the vinyl with an assertive keyboard line fit for the most extravagantly pimped car stereo. Sirens wail whilst Sian's multi-tracked sneer spits out rhymes and bitter truths about being lost in a financial hinterland - fun or rent? Clothes or food? The choices of life in a modern capital city laid bare, the wastefulness of "a good time", the careless consequence of hedonism.
"Sexy Coma" takes the twisted musings of a someone turned on by a helpless, comatose partner – vamped over a groove firmly in the key of 'dark', with one-note stabs at the bass guitar and a looping, almost musical rhythm pounded out on the kit. Sian's slyly humorous lyrics are a sardonic look at relationships - never totally condemning, always confident and pragmatic.
Elsewhere the record, which was engineered and produced by Amir Shoat, looks at the self-destructive nature of our modern lives, exemplified in "Man Vs Machine" and "Money Loves Drugs Fame" - a raised eyebrow to our collective obsessions and societal preoccupations, satirically deconstructing pop music and the attitudes it portrays without ever doing away with those key elements which make it appealing – the beat, the melody, the groove! It never stops being 'fun' to listen to, with hooks and choruses worming their way into the ear from every angle.
Closing track, "Attractive" is a six minute semi-plaintive (borderline-disturbing) lament for a lost relationship. The protagonist looks back at years gone by, full of longing and regret for a love having ebbed away before turning round again, introspective and 'realistic'. Starting simply, it builds into a wall of sound recalling, weirdly, "State of Independence", the music rising ever upward as the vocals chant and call out. Vocally and lyrically, Sian hits her stride here with a complex, almost comically clinical study of memory – we see the subject denying their own pain through their realism, rationalising their way into a version of happiness.
This detachment, even amongst moments of such beauty, is exactly what PLUG are so good at. Instances of great intimacy are upended, turned over, drawing you in before revealing their bittersweet underside. These are the contrasts which mirror our capricious lives, their erratic and compelling extremes. As the album finishes with the sound of that 'open window on the world' closing shut with a thud, we're left assured that PLUG's view of the outside is a genuine one. Sometimes world-weary, perhaps even cynical, but always with a beating heart.