On Plastic News' Sore Eyes LP, the formula is simple: Put some pre-808 drum-machine beats behind uncomplicated keyboard chord changes. Drop in some dreamy piano plinks and the occasional sample and let the equally retro and futuristic feel fire your neurons or lull you into submission. Both are appropriate responses. Brandon Crouch is the human behind Plastic News, though any organic material you hear has been filtered through silicon chips and circuit boards. Like STL expat Phaseone, Crouch makes instrumental music that takes the schema of hip-hop and R&B and doses it with a codeine lacquer. When it works, the effect is hypnotic and engrossing; "Not to Be Trusted" loops a synthetic vocal snippet and lets simple piano notes decay around that center, as slinky guitar lines and punched-in percussion help build momentum. Some smart filmmaker will someday pair this song with a slow, seductive montage or elegantly typefaced credit sequence. The bulk of the album consists of two- or three-minute songs, but longer tracks like "Trusted" are the most rewarding as they have time to bloom and modulate.
There's a certain seamlessness missing in a few too many of these tracks — drum loops don't quite sync up, hanging chords linger a bit too long, a vibe is temporarily but irreparably displaced by a little glitch. Quibbling stuff, really, but enough to suggest that Crouch is still becoming comfortable with his tools. Instrumental and ambient music may never pull itself from the gravitational force of Eno's Another Green World (and why would it want to?), and Crouch gives a few nods in that direction. The nearly six-minute track "She Skips" harks back to Eno's "Sombre Reptiles" — those buzzy and diaphanous patches of sound, that clattering Latin rhythm from some long-outdated beat box, that sense of low-hanging dread that hovers like a thunderhead. Plastic News proves its worth when these tracks turn from bite-size sound samples into mood-changing movements, and Sore Eyes presages good things to come.