Whenever I listen to anything from PLS PLS’ new LP, Jet Black, I can’t picture an actual band. Instead, I see an office, with five middle-aged men in suits, sitting idly in a boardroom and brainstorming how to break the alt-rock market. They’ve hung charts up front, they’ve got framed prints of Genesis on the walls (London Marquee, ’82), they’re reviewing the results from their last survey of subjects and riffs that twenty-somethings care about.
Sure, say I’m flippant. Say I’m not understanding the local legend that must be Dan Dixon, who fronted the radically different rock outfit Dropsonic back in the ’90s. But you listen to PLS PLS’ sophomore full length and tell me that this isn’t engineered obsessively for success, with the same monolithic grandeur that prog rock’s last lords tried to revive in the ’80s. What is “Let You Down” but a re-do of “In the Air Tonight”; what is “Fools” but a careful reproduction of Peter Gabriel’s theatrics; and what is “Super Imposition” but a study in ZZT-era Yes, with the Post-It tabs still stuck in between the pages? They’re empty carbon shells, chains of code lifted from their idols’ playbooks and reprogrammed to appeal to the new consumers of prog-pop.
Granted, PLS PLS’ first LP from four years back wasn’t any mind-bending trip, either; indeed, Dixon’s proclivity for total studio dominance and perennial pop topics has always been in charge from the get-go. But at least that groomed gallery of radio(head)-friendly post-punk bumped against the walls of its hashtags, pondering shades of drone and glam along the way. And, fuck, songs like “WCA” may have been walking clichés, but they swaggered like BEASTS, oozing of such charisma that no one can escape their incessant chatter, and no one quite minds until they leave the table. For most of Jet Black, however, those chatty fellows have run out of novel stories to share, and now can only blab about shows you’ll never see and gear you’ll never afford.
For all the banal complaints, easily charted progressions, and safety net choruses, though, I’ll admit “Next!” is all right. It’s the one where Dixon practically spells out his ennui with Dropsonic — “It’s been ten years and I’ll never go back” — but it’s also the one with the snare as crisp as a new deck of poker cards, and the sort-of funky bass line, if LCD Soundsystem smelled the funkiest in yr record collection. Most importantly, though, the second half LOOMS — maybe a snapshot of Radiohead’s most ominous silhouette, mind you, reprinted from the original photo and mediated through a screen, but it LOOMS nevertheless.
Otherwise, though — meh. Good on Dixon for shaking off the onus of a past project, but Jet Black billows lazily into an even tougher curse to live with: stale, static irrelevance, with only a dash of the subversion that birthed PLS PLS in the first place.
PLS PLS will celebrate the release of Jet Black tomorrow, April 15, at the Earl. Supporting them will be Hank & Cupcakes and Fox Grin. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10. 21+ to enter.