Plastic Handgun: Rock and Experimental on ‘Involuntary Memories’ [Review]

Plastic HandgunUntil his latest album, Involuntary Memories, Toronto’s Mark Di Giovanni has been releasing largely electronic experimental music under the name Plastic Handgun. With the release of his second full-length album, however, Di Giovanni has added a new layer to Plastic Handgun’s sound by bringing more traditional analog and even acoustic rock instruments into the mix. By adding some rock styling, more traditional song structures and even vocals, Plastic Handgun is thus expanding into indie and dream pop territory while still keeping its core of experimental electro in tact.

Mark Di Giovanni has been working on Plastic Handgun for about six years, beginning with three short numbered EPs between 2009 and 2010. In 2013 his first full-length album, Saudade, cauterised Plastic Handgun’s experimental, Tangerine Dream-like sound. Though mostly electronic, it is clear that many of the tools and techniques for Plastic Handgun were done on older analog synthesizers, tube amplifiers and maybe even a vintage Moog. It is doubtful the sounds created in Saudade and its follow-up EP, Corsicaixa were done only on softwares like Ableton or Fruity Loops.Plastic Handgun

Many experimental electronic musicians are interested in the history of electronic music going back as early as 1948, with French musicologist Pierre Schaeffer and his concept of “musique concrete.” This idea of “real music” or electronic pieces which take sound bites from real life and loop them into an artistic or musical work is generally what sets experimental musicians apart from electronic or rave producers. These artists are interested in the science of sound and all the different ways to create it.

Plastic Handgun seems to run along these musique concrete lines, hence Di Giovanni tags his music as experimental.  He employs a number of different techniques to get to the overall sound he wants. Now with Involuntary Memories, he has added even more media to his toolkit in the form of rock guitars, drums and vocals.

The album’s opening track, Introverts, is a perfect example of this new direction Plastic Handgun is taking. It opens with a digitally manipulated acoustic guitar loop and then launches into even more guitar and Di Giovanni’s first ever vocals. His voice sounds very much like Richard Butler’s of the Psychedelic Furs, but with a whispery, calming effect. Intoverts is thus more ambient dream pop and indie guitar than experimental, but whatever the label may be, it’s certainly beautiful.

Eustacian Tube, the very next song on the album, is another highlight. Though largely electronic, this track has a rock-inspired rhythm and a stellar drum loop. It vacillates between this hard-nosed loop and a pretty, ambient glockenspiel-like track, and by the end the song the sound is transformed fully, tapering off into pretty guitar chords and eventually nothing but static. This song is named after the tube in the ear which regulates pressure, but it is almost certainly also referring to a tube synthesizer or some digital facsimile. Di Giovanni as Plastic Handgun uses this equipment or programming to create a sort pressurized or under water tone to the opening music and drum loop, thus simulating the feeling one gets when ones ears are plugged, when the eustachian tube is about to do its job.

The album continues on the rock trajectory after Eustacian Tube with the very guitar-driven Three Wolf Procession and Lisbon, the latter of which may remind some indie fans of The Stone Roses or Love Spit Love (Richard Butler’s 90s side project). Grave Spinning II, The Double Life, Capillary Vessel and Selective Living are a sonic study in guitars combined with Plastic Handgun’s Tangerine Dream-like song structure, each with its own unique blend of electronic sounds and instruments. The album closes with The Dusk You Kick up Is Too Fine, a sort of dreamy carnival-like sing along, and Mirror Stage, an even more dreamy self-examination infused with a tiny bit of drum and bass beat loop.

Involuntary Memories is definitely a departure for Mark Di Giovanni as Plastic Handgun. It seems clear that he has fallen in love with guitars and the sounds of rock and he has deigned to put his own spin on it, fusing rock with his own dreamy experimental base. The result is a little to the left of rock, a little to the right of dream pop and dead on for the evolution of Plastic Handgun’s sound. It will be very interesting to see where Di Giovanni and Plastic Handgun go next with his such a wide appreciation for all types of music, and who will be coming along for the ride. Plastic Handgun’s entire discography is available for stream and purchase on the Plastic Handgun Bandcamp page. There is also an extensive Plastic Handgun YouTube page, where fans can see a visual representation of the sounds in Di Giovanni’s head. Links to both sites are listed below in “Sources.”

Review by Layla Klamt


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