No, but really. With plaeground’s latest, “Love Is Real — Live From The 8×10,” that’s the truth. It’s all about the saxophone. Why? Because it’s that live instrumentation that sets Will Saxton’s pet project aside from all other electronic-based groups around. This isn’t just a collection of beeps and burps. These are real people. With real instruments. With real imagination. And with real talent.
That’s what makes “Love Is Real” so unbelievably exciting. Start with the opening title track, which translates the set’s namesake into four-plus minutes of sonic bliss. Backed by a killer slow burn of a groove, the song is what you’d hope to hear on ‘80s pop radio during a sweaty late-Saturday-night. The sax is seamlessly smooth while a flute flutters in and out of the background, adding a texture that transcends genres. It’s like what would happen if Branford Marsalis was the musical director of The Weather Channel. In this case, the local on the 8’s promises humid, steamy early-morning hours.
But don’t get too comfy because once “You And I” kicks in next, there’s no more lounging, no more relaxation. Driven by a pulsating kick drum, it opens like a Euro club smash, complete with a bass/synth build that explodes like laser lights through an outdoor festival sky. Before long, a snare drum sporadically pitters and patters until some good, old-fashioned classic rock guitar takes centerstage in a way that would make Steve Hackett proud. Once the flute makes it more Jethro Tull than Genesis, however, there’s an understanding of how complex the production is that dances from your feet right up into your brain.
The same infectious energy is found on the four-to-the-floor “2749 Year of the Future.” Except this time, we’re treated to a handful of vague, Daft Punk-ish vocal moments that are so effect-laden, all they really do is work as an additional instrument in and of themselves. Combined with soaring keys and a prominent-yet-tasteful hand drum (which, for what it’s worth, isn’t easy to accomplish), it’s a multilayered party not even the most jaded of music enthusiasts dare miss.
It’s also a moment that grants a more authentic appreciation for something like “LSDMT,” the slowest of slow jams that allows each sound to breathe as though the space truly were outer. Nevermind the atmosphere or the impending trip-hop percussion influences; instead, pay close attention to that prog-friendly guitar. The thing essentially serves as one extended solo, if you listen close enough, and the amount of aggression and taste with which it is performed is a master class in competence. By the time the shredding settles down, it’s nearly impossible to feel your heart do the same. Ditto for “All I Want Is,” which bobs and weaves through tempos like a level of “Space Invaders.”
Elsewhere, “Hiraeth” provides a bounce not heard on any other track here, and that middle-ground serves as the missing piece between spaced-out jam and full-on rave. When it evolves into a blistering middle section that punches through the noise with precision and truculence, it’s a reminder that you ought not get too comfortable.
Because by the time “I Have Seen the Fnords” kicks in to end the set, all the elements come together. A cut-time beat morphs from fast to slow on a dime, all the while everyone has their moment under the spotlight. There’s that stellar saxophone. There are those warm synths. There are those bombastic drums. There’s that pretty flute. There’s that riff-tastic rock guitar. They all live under one roof and the builder of the house encourages each resident to unite, becoming one fascinating force of shelter that we should all be so lucky to call home.
Will Saxton, the builder, has done himself well by allowing all these elements to survive alongside one another. It’s what makes “Love Is Real — Live From The 8×10” so much fun. It’s what makes this set of songs impossible to ignore. It’s what makes all these differing influences not only work but thrive together whenever they cross paths. It’s what makes these songs a trip to listen to when taken together.
And it’s what makes this a plaeground worth visiting again and again and again, no matter how old you might be.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***