Review: Playlab - "lastleg"

Playlab - lastleg
(2017 Self-Released)

No matter what search engine is at your disposal, the keyword "Playlab" will fetch a predictably trendy lineup of digital-age concepts. Your query might gather a non-profit program meant to teach youngsters to code, or perhaps it'll lead you to the parodically-sparse homepage of a trendy New York creative firm that has -- among other things -- released a collection of photos cleverly titled Friendzone that captures football players in greyscale embrace. There's also a Bangkok-based mobile app developer with this same name, cranking out cutely-designed, pay-to-play Candy Crush clones. 

These three examples are just the tip of the cybernetic iceberg. "Playlab" is the sort of vague, jargony phrase that sits comfortably among the grandiose lingo of other uniformly sleek tech startups. It's practically begging to be plastered in Helvetica font on a small office in a gentrified cranny of the city, sharing the block with a craft brewery, or maybe a bicycle repair store. 

It's an aesthetic prophesied by Jeff Koons' 2001 exhibition EasyFun Ethereal, (note esp. the quirky portmanteau of a title), lampooned by PC Music, and deconstructed by the Cincinnati drum-and-bass outfit whose name I've spent the last couple paragraphs discussing. Playlab's lastleg LP exists on the raw, gutter-punk outskirts of the 'corporate techno-minimalist' ethos pioneered by Apple and appropriated by countless imitators. The record's synth textures are as squeaky as latex and often rounded at the edges for safety -- the sounds used here are IDM's equivalent to toy pianos and plinks of xylophone. Rattled off at inhuman speeds, these primary-colored tones scramble to form pointillist harmonies diluted only by their squelchy canvas of trashed snared and gabber kicks. 

Much of lastleg plays like an SNES game scored by Aaron Dilloway. At the album's best, Playlab whisks its arrangements with free-jazz rhythms: cuts like "Mouse Love" and "midipet ver0 jam 2" do this best, violently sending stray flecks of instrumentation splattering onto the kitchen countertop with little regard for tidiness. Despite its sugary components, the music seeks to make a ferocious mess of itself, producing peals of grating noise that emerge from their simulated dust cloud. Playlab's arrangements may do battle, but their combat is limited to cartoon violence. Fun is always at the forefront.

lastleg's latter half contains a few attempts at traditional songcraft. Pop single "I Put it All Online" is a dissonant new-wave groove indebted to both Ariel Pink and David Lynch, pairing text-to-speech software with flailing 808s and throaty keyboards that threaten to implode between each iteration of the titular chorus. "Can You Hear Me?" employs a variety of artificial voices to body its constantly-evolving beat, which slyly transitions from happy hardcore to footwork to trap.

This isn't the kind of release meant for listeners to return to for comfort's sake. It's more or less the tree you're not to overlook the forest of Playlab's discography for. Like Guided by Voices, CHXPO or Lil B, the project's overwhelming stream of output is just as big a draw as the content itself. With around 100 tracks dropped over the past 30 days, the best way to enjoy Playlab is to dive in headfirst, sifting through the roughage to uncover nuggets of improvised brilliance.