Although he’s released plenty of music over the past six years, this is the first record during that span that Brian Leeds has released under his Huerco S. alias. As such, there was a lot of pressure on the album; would it live up to the promise of his older material? The answer is a resounding yes. Plonk is an astonishingly good slab of ambient minimalist techno ready for clubs or headphones.
With Plonk, Leeds is determined to move away from ambient connotations and prove that he can hang with the minimal masters. This is not to say that his music is inaccessible or unfriendly, just that he wants listeners to realize they’re engaging with a variety of rhythms and nuances, not just one soundscape splayed out over an hour-long album. The sounds are familiar, sure: vintage synths, clicks and cuts, and atmospheric chords. But there is prickliness here too, abrasiveness in the form of noise and static — and that perpetual infernal gurgle that lurks between the lines eliciting spine-tingling unease.
Drenched in overtones and texture, Plonk opens up like a forest, one where branches and leaves become disembodied voices, clicking insects, and skittering woody debris. The album opens up slowly, with the wet plip-plop of droplets hitting strings that nicely recalls Leeds ambient works as Huerco S. But there’s a difference here; nowhere does Leeds settle for the drones or loops that ambient music so often falls back on.
Leeds does plenty of things well across Plonk, but perhaps the most significant is his pacing. It is beautiful but rigid; it is still and glassy but filled with tension. It reveals itself gradually and departs just as abrupt. The melodies are a rich and varied tapestry; a tapestry which ranges from tumultuous industrial tropes filtered into kaleidoscopic bursts of ebbing and flowing discord (“Plonk IV”) to careful, deliberate arpeggios that spill like clockwork from their sockets (“Plonk III”). This melting pot of sounds should come as no surprise in the wider context of Leeds’ body of work, but it’s what he does thematically which makes Plonk feel grander.
The whole album sets a peculiarly captivating mood. Leeds’ music is always immersive and hypnotic, but Plonk feels especially suited to altered mental states. This is a record of disparate sounds and samples that nevertheless coheres into something magical and unique. Listening to Plonk, it’s clear Leeds has never been more sure-footed as an artist, and he’s made one of his strongest records as Huerco S. in the process.