No Place Like Plone
There can be no worse fear for the music obsessive than knowing that somewhere out there is an amazing, life-changing album that you’ll never get to hear because fate never sends it in your direction. I’m pretty sure that lurking in the ever-growing pile of CDs on my desk is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, but unless somebody can add an extra day to the week that I can devote solely to listening to music, the majority of it will remain unheard by my ears. Running that a close second is the album that you know exists, but you won’t get to hear it because it never gets released. I don’t mean album sessions that get canned or albums that are rejected by labels for being rubbish and then end up appearing later in a slightly different form. I’m talking about entire albums that are recorded, submitted, accepted, but never see the light of day.
One such album is the untitled second album by the Brummie analogue synth wizards Plone. The trio of Mike “Billy” Bainbridge, Mark Cancellara & Michael Johnston made some devastatingly beautiful music during their short but ever so sweet career, represented by a painfully thin catalogue of two singles and one album, released between 1997 and 1999. An obsession with analogue equipment coupled with a naive charm and a playful approach to melodies made them loved by anyone who followed electronic music. Plus they looked like a trio of physics students, especially live, where they gathered earnestly behind banks of old-school synths (above).
My first contact with Plone was via the marvellous Plaything, their contribution to the 100th Warp release (WAP100), with its farty synth squelches that could put an idiot grin on the sourest of faces. Prior to that there had been a single, Press a Key, on Wurlitzer Jukebox - the original home of fellow Brummie sonic pioneers Broadcast and Pram. Plone, like Broadcast, then signed to Warp. On their first single release for Warp Records, Plock (much-loved, and played at my wedding), they married the sweetest Moogy melodies to a soothing, vocodered vocal inviting you to “Come out to play”, perfectly evoking the mood of an innocent, carefree childhood.
Their debut album For Beginner Piano expanded on this theme - whimsical, retro-futurist electronic synth music, with a nod towards soundtracks and imaginary themes to children's TV or the incidental music for amusingly dubbed 1980s Euro dramas. The melodies were occasionally cloying, but it definitely was not "the new elevator music", as Pitchfork stated in its less than glowing 1999 review.
They recorded a second album - not just demos; a proper, finished, mastered and ready to go album – but the death of Warp’s co-founder Rob Mitchell in 2001 led to the album release being postponed. Plone were one of Rob’s signings, and while that didn’t preclude other people at the label from liking the band and being behind their music, in the aftermath of his death, the appetite from both label and band to work on and promote the album was diminished. Time passed and so did the moment. Plone split and the album remained unreleased. Everybody moved on to new things…
Plone - 140
Plone - Arpeggios
After a time, torrents and download links started appearing on the internet (it’s not clear who initially leaked the album – band, friend or former label employee), but they disappeared as quickly as they were uploaded, and I seemed to always be one step behind. Then I finally stumbled upon a live link and was able to download the album in its entirety. Wow. Bigger, bolder and better than their 1999 debut, the 17 songs represented a great leap forward. They retained everything that made them brilliant, but the addition of live drums on tracks like 140 gave the Plone sound a welcome extra dimension. A driving rhythm is bashed out and the track culminates in a swirling, psychedelic wig-out. Plone never rocked before – it’s the sound of the band letting their hair down. Arpeggios also has live drums but is a more laidback affair, with twinkling pianos, spangly space-age effects and a gorgeous, hummable melody. I've popped those two tracks up above for download - if you're lucky you may still find a active link of the album in its entirety somewhere on the internets, but what it really needs (deserves) is for the somebody like Ghost Box, or even Warp, to dig out the masters and give the album the proper release it deserves. It really is a cracker.
Search eBay for Plone
Plone at Warp Records
1997 interview with Plone here