It's ironic that an electronics-reliant duo notorious for complex and difficult productions had an involuntary hand in the making of an instrumental rock album so simple, natural, and flat-out gorgeous. Play is Larsen's third studio album in eight years. They weren't merely inspired by Autechre, as indicated in the inner sleeve. Rather than write material the old-fashioned way, the band took some of the groundbreaking experimental techno duo's melodies and improvised around them, which eventually gave way to fully formed songs that only left traces of their inspiration. In fact, the notion of this method actually taking place turns out to be so faint that only those who know Autechre inside out are likely to pick up on it. Compared to 2002's Michael Gira-produced Rever, this album is less explosive and dynamic, but it's often as riveting. Save for churning opener "C," grinding guitar riffs and howling vocals are nonexistent, the loudest passages carried instead by Marco Schiavo's drums and two guest collaborators -- cellist Julie Kent and violinist Matt Howden. The gradual gradations -- like the layering of droning guitars and accordion on "G" -- that previously offset the thunderous moments on Rever -- are allowed take control of most of the album's duration. On "S," the band locks into a poised stasis not unlike the uneasy calm that sets in before a violent storm, but the threat slowly deteriorates, leaving the tension unresolved. As always, Larsen seem driven to make an album that swims through your head hours after it's played. "P" would be a tranquil finale, an easy way to let the listener out, if it weren't for the dark glimmer and sinister background swarm laid over a sparsely played guitar; rather than act as a quick outro, its effect is just as penetrating and lingering as any of the lengthier tracks in the middle of the album. Unfortunately, Larsen have also been remained willfully elusive throughout their career. They don't record often, hop from label to label when they do, and garner a small sliver of the interest they deserve.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman