Pitchfork Review: Quilt ‘Plaza’
The third album from indie/psych/folk quartet Quilt offers a rebuttal to all those people who argue that every artist steals. Some, like Quilt, know the difference between stealing from and honoring their influences.
When a band reaches into its box of old demos on hitting the third-album mark, that’s usually a sign that either the ideas have started to run low or that the musicians are no longer getting together to write songs as often as they once did. Likewise, groups of songs spanning several years often fail to hang together as a coherent whole. The third album from indie/psych/folk quartet Quilt might come from old demos, but it bucks these common trends by showing that disparity can serve as a creative asset.
Like a kind of musical Bermuda quadrangle, the convergence of pop-leaning indie rock, psychedelia, vintage British folk, and Americana has lulled many a band to sink into generic facelessness. Not so here. The only times Plaza comes across as less than convincing are the moments where Shane Butler and company tip their hand a tad too heavily, such as on closing number “Own Ways,” which falls just short of featuring faux English accents and sounds like Quilt’s musical answer to a ’60s mod costume party.
Elsewhere, though, they steer clear of slavish recreation, cleverly revealing new wrinkles in the arrangements from one song to the next. When Anna Fox Rochinski and Butler throw in a key shift on opener “Passerby” that evokes a sitar-like, resonator guitar tone, it’s as if they hit the whammy bar on the song itself during playback. It’s a trick they manage several times throughout this new set, where the entire band, which also includes drummer John Andrews and new bassist Keven Lareau, will suddenly go slack before the arrangement as a whole automatically snaps back like a guitar returning to its default string tension. At these times, usually the band will be cruising along at a pleasant pace before swerving toward a jagged, seemingly out-of-place chord or element, and the overall effect is like a friend suddenly tousling your hair.
On “Roller,” Quilt re-reappropriates Elastica’s appropriation of Wire, but instead of returning the angular guitar riff to its rightful owner, tosses it into a dreamlike backdrop of keyboards and Rochinski vocals that smudge out in trails of thickening reverb, simulating our semi-conscious day-to-day train of thought as it focuses on banal tasks then blurs into daydreams until those nagging bits of reality pull our attention back down to Earth. If you were to stop and take stock of how many times your mind does this in the course of a single day, you’d likely be surprised because the process unfolds so smoothly that you mostly don’t even register that it’s happening. Quilt executes these transitions with similar ease.
On the chorus of “Your Island,” for example, Rochinski’s reverb-drenched vocals scrape the upper stratosphere of shoegaze—only without typical shoegaze instrumentation. It’s as if the band stripped a Lush tune of its vocals and transplanted them in a stripped-down, downtempo song that could have been written by the Duke Spirit. “O’Connor’s Barn” marries Whip-Smart-era Liz Phair’s cottony impressionism with the slightest touch of a Pavement-styled guitar hook circa Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. “Padova” excavates the experimental streak that seemed so promising about Gomez before that band surrendered to slick pop, while “Hissing My Plea” emulates the strings that Beck stole from Funkadelic’s “If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause.” Elsewhere, jangly nods to Fairport Convention and barebones Americana rear their heads as well.
In all of these cases, though, Quilt either significantly expands on or reframes these references, bringing substance, character and a modern production sheen to older ideas. They have always been a quietly stylish band, with diligently crafted songs, savvy arrangement instincts, and a discreet, almost unassuming way of asserting their own voice while embracing influences. Without even trying, Plaza offers a rebuttal to all those people who argue that every artist steals. Wrong—some, like Quilt, know the difference between stealing and honoring.