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Quilt bring levity to any tale that Anna Fox Rochinski or Shane Butler turn their words to. 2014's Held in Splendor contained hard-earned, yet rewarding moments of bliss. When 'Mary Mountain' eschewed its desert-psych passages to reveal the gorgeous 'Tie Up The Tides', it was pleasantly unclear that a sequenced album was playing at all. Only after several listens did it become clear which songs were which in Quilt's dreamlike stasis.
It would have been nice if the band took a chance on the new record by pushing these boundaries of empty space and release. Instead, Plaza is a steadfast pop record in structure and vocals. Tracks 3-7 are exhaustingly peppy, dealing in tropes from false starts ('Hissing My Plea') to repetitive, train track drums ('Searching For'). Still, it's hard to speak ill of a band that is consistently so down to earth.
Plaza's opener reminds us of the old Quilt with 'Passersby'. John Andrews' coined kick and tom-heavy drum beat rolls around spacious arpeggios that infinitely reverberate in tandem with the group vocal. Even harp makes an appearance to flesh out the earthly vibrations. 'Roller' follows and has the band in straight rock and roll mode. With booty bass and shakers surrounding her, Rochinski begins several phrases with a quick "honey" as if addressing someone who's close to her. She acts as a teacher as we, her pupils, hear her "give us the undiscovered." There's concern behind these lessons.
Plaza is a record that talks a lot about breakup, lack of sleep, and overthinking things. Quilt use their music to take these themes in stride on 'Eliot St' where a minimalist synth line and string chorus work to broaden Butler's upset moods. Even lines like "why was it so hard to love you?" sound lively. On 'Hissing My Plea', it's Rochinski's turn. She sings about drowning in one's own wake, but remains engulfed in a fuzzy bass rollick that hardly betrays a literal image of the lyrics. There's something there with Quilt that keeps the mood light.
The marathon middle section paves the way for the record's standout final songs. 'Padova', in particular, slows Plaza's propulsion peacefully and formlessly. A peppery fingerpicked guitar line underlies Butler's layers of prose that don't temp platitudes. Instead, we're given fleeting ideas like "ain't it funny how we make mistakes?" that push the song along at pace. The tone of his voice is also cooler and more ghostly than on 'Eliot St', perfectly treading water in Beatles-land even more than normal. It's followed by the similarly poignant 'Your Island', which is sung by Rochinski and only suffers from being too short. The drumbeat here mirrors Splendor's syncopated rhythms, which leaves her voice to act as the tracks cymbals, coolly coating each passage with fullness: "Want to leave behind the towers in your mind," she once again speaks of the pain in others.
Letting your grievances be is a major theme here, and even heartbreak is subject to bed down underneath Quilt's four-part harmonies. On 'Eliot St' and closer 'Own Ways', Butler insists on growth. Lines like "How can we go on/I don't know/but we'll have to go our own ways" show bravery in the face of loss: "Don't be afraid/it's only a death which is only a saying/so begin tomorrow." It's bold to talk about death with such brightness. Whether the subjects are abstract or dark, Quilt can be relied upon for cheerfulness and beauty.
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