PLAID RETINA – Singles
September 8, 2009
Now, I think before I begin here I need to apply some personal context… It must’ve been around 1991 when R.a.D magazine had an advert for a subscription to Strange Notes, the offer included a bunch of promotional material for Santa Cruz skateboards etc. like vids, magazines, stickers, t shirts etc. I remember it was a reasonable and affordable price like £20 or something. Videos alone at that time cost upwards of £25 and that was the main source of musical knowledge for enthusiastic youngsters such as myself. Anyhow, on the Strange Notes #3 video soundtrack was a good portion of side two of Plaid Retina’s ‘Pink Eye’ album. With something of a captive audience it was hard to ignore something so underground and in line with our subculture.
I was considering recently how I ended up with such a taste for the oddball bands & it can most likely be linked back to buying ‘Mind tracing the going down’ (2nd LP) not long after seeing Strange Notes #3. This was the only record that the local independent could order in… it was ‘Pink Eye’ that I was (unknowingly) after but didn’t end up getting that until seeing it at a record fair years later. I recall being massively stoked when I heard those tracks on vinyl (still am). Anyhow, ‘Mind tracing…’ was and still is a very bizarre record… it’s hard to pin down accurately but Plaid Retina are lost somewhere between NoMeansNo, Minutemen, King Crimson, VoiVod, Breadwinner, 1.6 Band & Victims Family only weirder. Eventually I have now digitized all my Plaid Retina singles, something I have always wished to do. The comp tracks I downloaded from David Hayes’ excellent blog but everything else is ripped from their four 7″s. There is a text note in with the zip detailing everything.
The first 7″ was released on Lookout! records in 1988 but was recorded in 86/87, It’s relatively straight ahead D.R.I. style thrashing hardcore with snotty vocals reminiscent of Attitude Adjustment. You can tell even in their formative stages they have the musicianship which allowed them to grow beyond just an imitation.
The Boxcar 7″ features 4 cover versions on side A (DYS, Misfits, Minutemen, Capitol Punishment) and 4 original tracks on side B. This was released on Musical tragedies in 1990 although I believe the music is from 1988. All these records are discussed in further detail here.
The ‘Rejection’ 7″ shows a definite change in style towards the quirkier more dissonant sound Plaid Retina went on to master. It straddles the gap between ‘Pink Eye’ and ‘Mind tracing…’ but is not as good as either in my opinion. It’s maybe their most obscure 7″ with 500 pressed in 1990 on Duck Butter records.
‘The Wringer’ 7″ is probably the best representation of the bands sound, every track here is an exercise in precise, rhythm driven prog hardcore. What is especially notable is the level of musicianship each player has reached. The bass playing skips between complex arpeggiated lines and full chords all played fingerstyle. The drumming is especially impressive, proggy time signature shifts played with the force and dexterity of hardcore. The guitar lines almost always juxtapose the bass with discordant trebly tritone chords. The three tracks here were from the unreleased ‘Dead End Mind’ album which I’d highly recommend hearing because it is a high point in both songwriting and production.
‘What I Can’t Have’ EP continues in the ‘prog-core’ vein opening with tight instumental ‘Quite’ which is pure homage to late 80′s VoiVod. The rest of the EP is a bit more abstract and not as direct as previous work but still interesting. It’s a shame the band did not carry on and explore these ideas over further albums.
Today it seems there’s just no way you could happen upon this band, they have remained in relative obscurity since breaking up in 1996. It’s fair to say they didn’t have a great deal of impact while a functioning band either, although the youtube footage below shows how exceptional their performances were in the early 90′s. Since Plaid Retina’s demise members have featured in other bands: Don (Drummer) plays in Crabnog while Matt (Guitarist) fronts Future Imperfect. I think in many ways Plaid Retina were a precursor to bands such as Dysrhythmia or Keelhaul, or maybe the wacked out Orthrelm/Behold… the Arctopus sound. It’s doubtful they actually influenced these groups directly but it’s safe to say Plaid Retina were a good 10 years ahead of the curve and that’s as a good an epitaph as any for this band. Click for DL: