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On his third longplayer Tenth Volume Of Maps, Melbourne-based songwriter/sound-tinkerer Francis Plagne has taken it out of the bedroom and into the studio for the first time. Engineered by drummer Joe Talia and featuring inspired arrangements and performances by his live band (plus various guests from Melbourne's fecund experimental music family-tree), the resulting sonic palette is rich, with the songs taking on a more purposeful, orchestrated feel than 2005's lauded debut Idle Bones and its eponymous follow-up.
With McCartney, Nilsson and Veloso well within earshot, Plagne has re-pledged his commitment to the song form and taken a more compositionally integrated approach than the sonic experimentation and wild oscillations that marked his first two albums. In embracing the fidelity of the studio and bringing his own voice into focus amid fields of gorgeous instrumentation, Plagne has further bridged the gap between the conceptual and the accessible.
This time around, there's less splicing of sounds and more construction, layering and complexity, whilst delving further into a fascination with the interplay of melody and rhythm — aspects demonstrated by the young composer as inseparable from the timbre and texture of the instruments that realise them. As ever, Plagne is mindful of his musical history (on 'Cilio' paying tribute to the held tones of the song's Neapolitan minimalist namesake) but in looking to his influences, continues to flourish in extraordinary new ways.
(Side A) 1) Row, Oarsman, Row 2) Black Hand 3) Spun Six Circles 4) Oranges 5) Cilio
(Side B) 6) Pillow Hill 7) Yesterday Sponge 8) Features 9) Two Fishing Civilians
Personnel: Robbie Avenaim, Ned Collette, Samuel Dunscombe, Dale Gorfinkle, Judith Hamann, Connal Parsley, Anthony Pateras, James Rushford, Joe Talia and Kim Tan
Francis Plagne — Spun Six Circles by Lost And Lonesome
Why should brazen abstraction and classic pop be strange bedfellows? In the hands of Melbourne’s Francis Plagne, the two blend into a smooth, translucent whole. Though more pop-minded than his previous work, Plagne’s third album doesn’t skimp on structural twists, puzzling lyrics and the odd lurch into free-form clatter. Recalling US tinkerer David Grubbs’ most recent albums, as well as the solo output of visionary Van Dyke Parks, Plagne skews his polite baroque pop towards coy experimentation and arrangements as understated as they are prone to mutation.
Working with his live band – bassist Connal Parsley, cellist Judith Hamann, violinist/arranger James Rushford and drummer/engineer Joe Talia – Plagne also enlists guests like Ned Collette and Anthony Pateras. Even with up to 10 players, though, these songs aren’t at all cluttered. The instrumentation is used sparingly, and Plagne’s cleanly lilting vocals and image-steeped lyrics take centre stage.
‘Row, Oarsman, Row’ introduces the album’s floaty softness and bristling turns alike, while the acoustic guitar-guided ‘Black Hand’ comes off folkier despite flowery strings. ‘Spun Six Circles’ is the real standout, offsetting breezy vocal harmonies and thumping piano and drums with mentions of “Turkey’s paroxysms” (a seeming reference to Herman Melville’s famous story Bartleby the Scrivener) and “corpse fishing a river”. Those lyrics are matched in strangeness only by ‘Cilio’ – a song whose instrumentation waxes and wanes until it finds its pop groove and later a great frazzled guitar passage – and the “decayed circus clowns”-citing ‘Features’.
The album’s centrepiece, meanwhile, is the near-10-minute ‘Yesterday Sponge’, which slips organically between rustling musique concrete discord and sheer haunted-house pop. That track aside, though, Tenth Volume of Maps is as affable and accessible as anything on Lost & Lonesome’s pop-fixated roster. Released on vinyl only (with download), the album feels like a handful of painstakingly crafted art objects. It may be precious – both as pop and as experimentation – but not overly so.