Plini - Handmade Cities
A record that is achingly beautiful, orchestral, progressive, fun and musical all at once
Words: Ben Armstrong
When writing for an earlier blog around three years ago, I got sent the details of a promising Australian guitarist/songwriter and his debut EP Other Things. I spent much of that day drinking coffee in the sun and listening to those three songs on repeat, in awe of this fresh, new approach to bedroom musicianship. Before I left my post at the coffee shop, I messaged him personally and bought a copy of the EP for a few Australian dollars.
Nowadays, it’s great to see Plini front and centre in the progressive rock/metal scene. It was clear to me from the first song that he had massive potential and now, off the back of a tour with Animals As Leaders and two subsequent EPs, more and more people are beginning to talk – and talk they should. Few players ever reach the level of becoming entirely connected with their instrument, but over the course of three years and at such a young age, Plini has already accomplished this feat.
Listening to Handmade Cities, I’m taken back to that day drinking coffee in the sun. The music exudes the warmth of a summer’s day and bubbles with the energy of a chatter-charged room. Sometimes quiet and contemplative and elsewhere explosive, the record has a beautiful flow and seamlessly transitions between themes; it’s a collection of songs tailored for an easy listen, as colourful and varied as a day out getting lost in nature.
Plini himself, the shining star of the record, is responsible for much of this colour, using his guitar as a brush with which to paint his canvas. Throughout this thirty five minutes, we hear the guitar used organically in place of a human voice, as a powerful rhythmic force, or as a background texture in a variety of free-flowing rock, metal and jazz arrangements. The lead work throughout the album is sublime, with a real emphasis on phrasing in addition to and often above note choice. I feel that a lot of virtuosos forget this and end up sounding homogenous, but Plini has a style all his own. Most of the time, and especially during solos, the guitar imparts a tangible, human quality to its parent track, oozing with passion and subtleties which are edited out of many modern recordings.
The exquisite ballad Every Piece Matters is arguably the best showcase for Plini’s guitar ability, though it is isn’t the heaviest or fastest cut here. Channelling Steve Vai and Tycho in equal measure, the track is constructed through magical, eastern melodies and perfectly timed runs which soar above the solid rhythm work courtesy of Troy Wright (a truly excellent drummer and someone who I’ve had my eye on for some time now) – his playing helps take Plini’s music to the next level. The song just feels comforting and by the time human voices enter to texture its finale, I’m home.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, and in a similar fashion to how Selenium Forest closed 2013’s Other Things, Cascade rounds out proceedings with an all-out prog-metal blitzkrieg. The rhythmic guitar work throughout is stellar, with just enough ‘djent’ to add the required bounce without feeling derivative of just about every other metal band currently on the circuit. Most of all this song reminds me a lot of Fallujah’s The Flesh Prevails; its chorus fires out of the speakers with reverb drenched, swooping harmonies before collapsing in on itself in truly cinematic fashion. There’s a jazzy interlude section which has become a Plini trademark, but it feels utterly organic and cohesive with the rest of the piece – it’s a synergy of styles which is hard to pull off, let alone pull off quite this well.
There’s plenty more to discuss when it comes to Handmade Cities, a record that is achingly beautiful, orchestral, progressive, fun and musical all at once. It’s a real progressive masterpiece and the current jewel in the crowd of a young Australian guitar player who I always hoped would fulfil his potential. I’ll leave it at that and let the music do the talking from here. Go outdoors, find the last remnants of the summer sun, and crank this up. Who needs words, anyway?