Plume Varia: Prize/Enable (review)

Good golly, I love the noise emanating from metro Denver these days. I tell you now: I have not been disappointed lately in the rich tunes this town is writing. And just when I think I’ve turned over most of the rocks, a husband-wife duo comes along and hypnotizes my face. As someone who also makes “spouse music,” it is particularly exciting for me to give the Stubborn Sounds thumbs up to Plume Varia.

Denver's Plume Varia

Denver’s Plume Varia

Unlike some of my other reviews, I deliberately did not contact Plume Varia to discuss anything or ask questions about their background or music. Something held me back, as if the more I knew about the band, the less objectively I’d be able to reckon with their sound.

This is what I know. Shon and Cherie Cobbs are Plume Varia. Denver-based. They self describe as a “dreampop/ambient/trip-hop duo.” Their single is a three-song e.p. called “Prize/Enable.”

I have to recommend lights out, no distractions, when encountering this music for the first time. Seriously, lie down, shut those peepers, and turn off that gosh darned phone. While only three songs, they sequence so well and probably make the most sense as a trio. If you don’t have any context for ambient, dreampop, or triphop, put those big scary descriptions aside in favor of a musical comparison. Shades of Portishead, smidges of Mazzy Star, snippets of Craig Armstrong. Sorta.

Cherie’s voice sounds the way a menthol cigarette lit up outside at zero degrees tastes: delicious. She takes melodies down paths that you don’t hear coming. There’s such a thing as singing it straight – sans mystery – but her voice is too complex for that. Whether it’s a dizzying background aaahhhh or a long lead note, there’s a depth there that your everyday pop singer lacks.

The Herb to these vocal Peaches is Shon’s skill as a percussionist and effects man, all generated by laptop and assorted gizmos. While Cherie is laying down lyrics and making a piano gently weep, he’s ensuring that the music bed is a very interesting place. Ambient is absolutely the right word. The beat is sparing, leaving room for synth, Moogishness, guitar and other splashes.

Lyrical content: not even gonna go there. They may write about being human and in love or they might not. What I take from their lyrics is a sense of urgency.

There’s no doubt about their individual talents, but the core strength of this duo is that hard-to-describe magic that flickers into flame when partners in life also share music. That’s not to say that one wouldn’t enjoy Cherie singing cabaret and Shon in the DJ booth. But what they pour into these songs together as Plume Varia is a drink that can’t be sipped alone.

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