the skeleton crew quarterly
There’s nothing remotely transparent about Plastik Joy. From first reading their name – which anticipates a hardcore techno group - on n5MD’s mailing-list to hearing their first song ‘Sleepy Quest for Coffee’, I’ve found it difficult to classify 3:03. Perhaps it’s because their debut is occupied by several vocalists and displays a criss-cross of subgenres from electronica’s past decade. Maybe my inability to sort out Plastik Joy arises from the fact that this duo, comprised of Fannar Asgrimsson and Cristiano Nicolini, live and collaborate from different countries. This long-distance partnership, between their respective homelands of Iceland and Italy, has instilled 3:03 with a perfect blend of smooth electronics and folk sensibilities, yet to leave its ambition at that would be a criminal understatement.
Take, for instance, their opener; as shut-in and domestic as its title reads, ‘Sleepy Quest for Coffee’ plays out like a late-night stroll, as if instead of soundtracking a walk to the kitchen, it should be backing an empty grocery store parking lot, peppered by springtime rain. These nocturnal reflections encompass much of the record but each remain fresh under stylistic guises, like how ‘Hands’ utilizes chillout-style female vocals and Alva Noto-inspired cut-ups before introducing live percussion, or how a piano and toybox melody interact with rain-clattered laptop beats and an unfurling wash of noise on ’63 (She was Trying to Sleep, I was Trying to Breathe)’. Convergences of ideas and styles spike with the half-sung, half spoken-word ‘Medispiace’, which abruptly jumps into an electric guitar attack, but iron out with the one-two sequencing of ‘Twenty-Ninth of April’ and ‘Barcelona – Reykjavik’; both emitting an unexpected dose of soft Mogwai-esque post-rock. Although describing the range of these compositions inevitably sounds scattershot and incompatible, 3:03 manages its overflow of ideas by balancing grander pursuits with their dependable folk-glitch instrumentals.
As 3:03 apparently earned its title from the coincidental time most recording sessions came to a close, there are moments where the record risks delving too deeply into shadows (‘Asynchrony of Lives’, ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’) but even then, Nicolini and Asgrimsson are feeding their nightly muse with careful footsteps. The joy of discovering Plastik Joy isn’t catching glimpses of Dntel, Four Tet, Victor Bermon or Finally We Are No One-era Mum, but appreciating how distinctively these audio-engineering graduates have grappled their influences into something at once far-reaching and comforting. Here I’ve name-dropped several successful electronic acts and yet none of them diminish Plastik Joy’s authorship; their traces are felt as spirits only, providing momentary chills throughout this late-night score. One of this year’s more promising debuts.
Downbeat electronic / instrumental duo Cristiano Nicolini and Fannar Asgrimsson first met back in 2005 while they were both studying audio engineering in Barcelona, a meeting that resulting in their ongoing partnership as Plastik Joy, despite the two continuing to live in Italy and Iceland respectively. With Nicolini coming from more of an electronic music background, while Asgrimsson has his roots in folk-rock, this impressive debut album on n5MD ‘3:03? (apparently named for the time at which recording typically halted in the early morning hours) introduces the duo’s blend of intricately-detailed post-rock and IDM / glitch influences. Anchored around the gentle female vocals of guest singer S. Kawasaki (who appears on about half the tracks here), tracks such as opener ‘Sleepy Quest For Coffee’ and ‘Twenty-Ninth Of April’ see the duo constructing meticulously-detailed and sweepingly melancholic post-rock landscapes, delicate guitar strokes and trailing keyboards merging with subtle glitchy textures, whirring harmonics and fractured IDM rhythms to create a fusion that’s not completely dissimilar to Dntel, or perhaps Telefon Tel Aviv during one of their more quiet, introspective moments. While for the most part the eleven tracks here see Plastik Joy setting the cruise control for a swooning, dreamlike glide, moody highlight piece ‘Mediaspiace’ sees thunderclouds moving into the foreground as S. Kawasaki’s ominous spoken word performance and pensive chiming guitar chords give way to crunching rock powerchords and crashing drums, the entire track bursting into flame before things settle back down to a glow that smoulders on through to the end of this impressive collection. An excellent debut album from Plastik Joy that’s also one of the best winter headphone soundtracks I’ve heard so far this year.
Plastik Joy's debut full-length 3:03 (the title referring to the morning time when the album's recording sessions usually finished) is clearly the poppiest and most song-like of the three recordings and consequently has the greatest potential for broad appeal. Abetted by the key contributions of a small circle of friends, Cristiano Nicolini and Fannar Ásgrimsson (who met while studying audio engineering in Barcelona in 2005) create music that's reminiscent of L'altra in many ways: both groups assemble their material using acoustic (acoustic and electric pianos, bass, acoustic and electric guitars) and electronic materials (drum programming, synthesizers) in equal measure, both tend to focus on richly atmospheric ballads heavy on emotive character, and both prominently feature female vocalizing in their songs. In “Hands,” the soft voice of Sarah Hellström blends with a sparkling, guitar-based backdrop in L'altra-like manner, while “True Norwegian Black Metal” and “Medispiace” are even closer in spirit to the Chicago group's sound, with s.kawasaki delivering plaintive vocal melodies in a manner not unlike L'altra's Lindsay Anderson. Extending the Chicago association further, “Problem with Humans” and “Twenty-Ninth of April” wouldn't sound out of place on a Telefon Tel Aviv album, with s.kawasaki again threading a path through a dense setting of electronic and acoustic sounds in the former and an unidentified male singer doing the same in the latter. Throughout the hour-long album, Plastik Joy hews towards the mellower end of the spectrum, with the lone exception coming halfway through “Medispiace” where a brief explosion of shoegaze fury occurs. Album instrumentals such as the lilting overture “Sleepy Quest for Coffee” and shoegaze lullaby “63 (She Was Trying to Sleep, I Was Trying to Breathe)” likewise favour the softer side. If Plastik Joy's fine debut doesn't quite reach the epic heights of L'altra's Different Days and Telefon Tel Aviv's Map of What is Effortless, it's at least pointing in the same direction.
Isländisch-italienische Koproduktion! Die beiden Jungs Cristiano Nicolini und Fannar Asgrimsson huldigen der Stille und der Elektronika. Im bewährten Mix aus Akustik, Geräusch und dezidierter Elektronik - natürlich mit den fast schon obligatorischen Ausbrüchen, hier und da mit Vocals von Freundinnen, ist so ein Album entstanden, das nicht nur mithalten kann, sondern auch überraschende Akzente setzt. immer wieder ist der Sound der Band so mitreißend naiv und zwitschernd, dass man sich ein Lächeln nicht verkneifen kann. Gut, die Vocals hätte es nicht gebraucht, aber type-Fans werden hier ihre helle Freude dran haben. Indietronics lebt.
I spy with my little eye something beginning with I. Italy. Iceland. IDM. Interesting. I also spy a definite trend in the recent n5MD roster, with each release featuring more organisms than its subsequent artificial brother. Those legendary platters of glitch now come with yummy gluten noodles, forks twisting up mouthfuls of loveliness. Mmmm, machines, and the ball gets passed on to Plastik Joy—a double-act formed by Fannar Ásgrimsson and Cristiano Nicolini; Reykjavik and Rome colliding. To some it doesn’t matter where the originators hail from—the label have cracked the art of making homesick tones sing out, after all—but these two are a noteworthy exception. If you can find a record that better unites digital Icelandic witchcraft with Mediterranean chill, that better defines “bittersweet” than 3:03 this summer, for Christ’s sake put me on to your otologist. I don’t think I could sense anything more sunny or meditative than this happy bundle of pain.
What Nicolini and Ásgrimsson have come up with is basically Easy Listenin’ without the apostrophe: robots lisping with gusto. Across an hour they weave fibre-optic folk into ambient shadows and make little dead legs for your ears—pumping, warm, tingly, innocent. I don’t know how they do it exactly (especially when they’re working against type—it’s the Italian here with the digital witchcraft; the Icelander playing the instruments) but the move works well, and it’s a mixed but personalised bag of sparks they serve up for their recording debut. “True Norwegian Black Metal,” for example, is obviously nothing of the kind, just serene evening tabs and druggy guest-lyrics flowing into the mayhem of “Medispiace” rather nicely. That one’s a definite booby trap, exploding from spoken word to rock din like only the European eccentrics know how (hands up, M83). Outside of this, 3:03 is more to do with calm guitar moods and ethereal lounge than it is with pulling stunts, so you can leave it on should any unexpected guests turn up. The melted motorways/bravely crumbled lullaby of “63 (She Was Trying To Sleep, I Was Trying To Breathe)” will have them all banding the Sigur Rós-isms round, Ásgrimsson playing to his roots, and “Twenty-ninth of April”‘s sad frets and computer tremors fall like August rain. Simple. Easy. Listening.
The best bit is, though, no matter how close to precious things become, the fairies and rainbows never once dare show themselves. Plastik Joy dispel icky syrup by writing honesty into 3:03: good moods collapse, bad ones fade out. This constant alteration makes them hard to second-guess, so you might come away a little exhausted by the end. If you’re in the bath and “Medispiace” hits you can expect to get the mop out, especially if you got in to the plush fug of “Sleepy Quest for Coffee” salted with keys and ocean swell. Bastards. I didn’t come away exhausted, though: all of the eleven tracks have got a magic that sticks like a dream, polishing the world for when you come back up again. With that in mind, 3:03 won’t be much use if you need something to quickly scowl at before going to crack some skulls, but for fast-acting hypnosis or an antidote to daily turmoil, it’s perfect. If Plastik Joy can eclipse this then they’re bound for some some major Year End lists; as it is, I’ll just keep them safe for mine—them and most of their labelmates. n5MD have once again concocted a project that’s nothing short of lovely.
Plastik Joy is an intriguing duo, if only for the fact that one of them, Cristiano Nicolini, is from Italy and the other, Fannar Ásgrímsson, is Icelandic. You can’t get any closer to “fire and ice” than that. The two met while studying audio engineering in Barcelona and began working together on a couple of songs at the end of 2007. Little did they know what a fortuitous decision it would be when they decided to establish a Myspace page shortly thereafter, in January 2008. First, Myspace led them to Swedish singer Sarah K. Hellström, who ended up writing the lyrics and melody and recording the vocals for their first tune, Hands. She didn’t actually meet Cristiano and Fannar in person until months after the song was completed. But more amazingly, in June 2008, they received a message on Myspace from Mike Cadoo, owner of renowned electronic music label n5MD, who had heard their songs on the site and wanted to discuss a record deal! One short month later, Plastik Joy had signed with the label. And now, 3:03, the debut album from the Myspace poster boys is here for all to hear.
At first, if you’re not in the right frame of mind, the dreamy, downtempo vibe of 3:03 may strike you as a bit too laid back – like the heat from the fire has melted the ice. But the simple, unassuming melodies grow on you. It’s an album that rewards – in fact, demands – repeated listening and immersion. You’ll come to love the undeniably warm, feel-good glow of Sleepy Quest for Coffee and Hands, the opening tracks of the album, which also happen to be the first two songs that the pair wrote together. From there, the rest of the album opens up like a budding flower.
The subtle electronics and acoustic instrumentation, with mellow guitar in a prominent role, make for an addictive concoction. Although Plastik Joy employ several singers on the album, it comes across very much as an instrumental album. Rather than leading the way, the vocals more often than not serve like any other instrument, adding one more color to the bittersweet vibe. On Hands, for example, Hellström’s breathy vocals, which hint slightly at Nina Persson of The Cardigans, blend completely into the sonic landscape.
There are one or two brief moments on 3:03 where the surface calm is broken by an outburst of noise, like an involuntary release of pent up energy, but in general, subtlety is the name of the game. It takes a great deal of skill and sensitivity to sustain an atmosphere of such refined delicacy throughout a whole album but Fannar and Cristiano carry it off with aplomb. Considering that this is just their first album, it whets the appetite for what’s to come.
3:03 gets its name from the time of morning at which recording sessions usually ended and n5MD touts the album’s “nocturnal vibe”. There’s definitely something to that. 63 (she was trying to sleep, I was trying to breathe), for example, is a pure lullaby. But the first half of the album conjures up images of late afternoons lounging on the beach with a cool drink in hand. If you’re looking for something to relax to poolside, it’ll most certainly do the trick. Just watch out you don’t fall asleep in the sun.