CD Review of Different Places by Plastic Operator

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Different Places
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Fine Day
Released: 2007
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If you’re on MySpace these days – and really, who isn’t – you undoubtedly get hit up with friend requests of all sorts. Most of these are usually webcam skanks who want you to come spend money on the opportunity to see them perform online. The next tier of requests usually comes from bands or musical artists wanting to get the word out on their brand of tuneage. More often than not, these acts aren’t worth listening to, as they’re often so mediocre that you might as well be listening to the radio. Dull, lifeless rot that commands no attention whatsoever.

But every now and then, you might get the request from a group that really makes you sit up and listen. Even better, you might be introduced to something that really blows you away and makes you feel thankful that said band stopped by to solicit their wares. So it went the day I got a friend invitation from Plastic Operator. Their page opened up, the song “Home 0207” started playing, and the first line, “A lot of fun in my Chevrolet as we drive away” was sung over percolating electro-pop beats and warm, inviting synths. That’s all I had to hear. Where do I purchase?

Truly, Plastic Operator have that distinct thing going for them that is untouchable. You can’t put your finger on why it’s so damn good, but you know you need to hear more of it. It’s just two guys: Antwerp’s Pieter Van Dessel on vocals and electronics, and Mathieu Gendreau, from Montreal, playing more electronics. Together they make electro pop music that is smart, instantly enjoyable, and most of all fun. They’re sort of like Daft Punk at their most playful, but not as heavy on the beats. And really after the lackluster Human After All from that group, the world seriously needs something to enjoy from that genre. Here it is.

Plastic Operator also brings to mind Kraftwerk with a bit more of a human element and softer edges. They also have touches of Freezepop running through their grooves, but these guys are a thousand times better. They are their own thing in the end, which is probably their greatest asset, yet they do bring to mind the good qualities of the things that have come before. Indeed, on the fantastic single “Folder,” Van Dessel’s singing sounds eerily close to Dominique Durand of Ivy. Well, the inflection and accent is comparable, even though Van Dessel hails from Antwerp and not France.

But every song here is a joy that instantly wraps itself around your ears, brain, and heart and makes you realize that there is indeed great music to be heard, even in this day and age of cookie-cutter nonsense being sold by not only the majors but many indie labels as well. For those who like good “robot rock,” there’s “Special Case” filled with groovy vocoder vocals smack dab in the middle of tasty sequencers and clear-as-a-bell synths that dance around the aural spectrum. Even better than that is the awesome “Another Sound,” featuring sawtooth synths and tasty vocal detuners (you know, that thing that was showcased to annoying but catchy effect on Cher’s “Believe” all those years ago) that come off like fantastic musical drugs.

It’s the human element of Plastic Operator that makes the whole thing work so perfectly. Van Dessel’s warm voice and singing style are at the heart of the whole quiet storm. Without his words and singing, the music would be great, but he’s the X factor that brings it all together, opens the front door and welcomes you in. It’s a very subtle style that more performers could take notes from, as it’s far more effective than going with that hammer-on-the-head technique.

The only shortcoming to the whole album is “Parasols.” It’s fine and all, but feels like the only place on Different Places where Plastic Operator falls under their line of perfection. It’s still strangely addictive, as a female voice intones “Take out the parasols, take out the plastic chairs” over and over, but that’s also the song’s problem. It doesn’t really go anywhere beyond that. But that’s all right, because it is still fun, and it’s bundled with other great songs like the exquisite “Folder” and the melancholy “Couch.”

Plastic Operator have made an album that truly shows how joyful and wonderful an experience music can be. Anyone can listen to these songs and feel that all is right in the world, that they have a place in the crazy times we live in and that there are things out there that can be enjoyed simply and easily, without worry. If more artists were creating this type of music, maybe the world as a whole really would be a better place. But you can listen to Different Places and realize that underneath all the bullshit, there are bright spots in which to feel at home.

As for me, I headed straight to after hearing a couple songs on Plastic Operator’s MySpace page and bought the album, along with the Folder EP. It’s not often that happens, but there you have it. This is simply what great music is all about.

~Jason Thompson