Plone – For Beginner Piano

Originally released 13th September 1999. Review published originally March 22nd, 2008.

Sometimes after putting something away for safekeeping you find it again and realise how useful it still is. Rising almost without a trace and disappearing back into the ether almost as quickly (Although somehow fittingly a highly regarded software application now bears the same name) Plone – trio Mike Bainbridge, Mark Cancellera and Michael Johnston – seemed perfectly suited to the philosophy of electronica’s definitive label Warp. Like most of their fellow roster at the time they weren’t strictly musicians in the traditional sense, preferring to work in synthesis and timbre rather than clefs and minor chords, but their subsequent departure after the release of For Beginner Piano – a second album was recorded but never officially released – remains one of the nineties minor mysteries.

Coming to prominence along with fellow Birmingham alt-electronica savants Broadcast and Pram, the Plone world was superficially one of childlike simplicity, where melodies were stolen from post modern nursery rhymes and song structures bore a stong resemblance to theme tunes from eighties sci-fi tv. It was an approach which stood out against the bleak late millennial backdrop of primal fear and re-emergent apocalyptic beliefs, a coda captured beguilingly on Plock, complete with pooh sticks rhetoric such as “Every day, come round to play, call round for me, sit in my tree” and stylophone keyboards played with a sense of undisguised naivette.

As with many Warp artists however it was an environment shrouded in duality. Opener On My Bus sounded like Hank Marvin composing a Bond tune from beyond the Oort Cloud, with anachronistic sounding sweeps gliding across a landscape fashioned from Bontempi and what sounded like a twenty fifth century banjo. Much of the rest shares this contrast between cheesy excerpt from The BBC Sound Affects library and carefully hidden subconscious espionage, Press A Key being the most obvious example of a template which takes a moment or two to reconcile because of the absence of a rhythmic backbone. But the most startling revelation is an obvious one when it emerges; that in the protean zeal of the trio’s approach to dance nerdernia – as especially displayed on Bibi Plone and Be Rude To Your School – they laid the platform for everything that informs Hot Chip’s aesthetic. For Beginner Piano will never be hip, but it deserves much better than being left behind after school.

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