Here is a collection of various review for Plone's album For Beginner Piano.
The awesomely named Plone's not quite so awesomely named For Beginner Piano is a strange sonic journey of a record. We travel from the wibbly noises of 808 State, through strange sub John Barry Bondscapes, guided by the heavy synth-harpsichord of Mono to an electro-charged other world of wonder and wobbliness. Tunes like the magical Plock are made from funny robot voices and even funnier sound effects, all of which float away on the surreally swinging melodies. Other tracks like Marbles and Busy Working have good, old fashioned melodies, but these are all suspended magically from glittering hanging gardens of blossoming electro-pop. And others, like The Greek Alphabet, seems to consist solely of spooky synth noises stretched over shuffling beats. Plone's approach to pop seems to be fairly heavy handed: noises are big and often clunky, despite the technology on show here. But this can only be a good thing, making the tunes meatier and beatier. The hands-on pop of Press A Key is a fine example: it sounds like the sort of thing you could do yourself given fifteen minutes alone in Dixons' keyboard demonstration section: all weird voices, rumbling beats, silly sound effects and sub-Mike Oldfield synthing. Except, of course, Plone are deceptively simple and their wonkiness and wackiness is well judged. You can't dance to this stuff, and I'm not quite sure what you're supposed to do to it. Just listen carefully, I guess.
by Brian J. Dillard
If Plone are this year's Boards of Canada, then this is a better year than last year. There was nothing wrong with the analog melancholia of "Music Has the Right to Children," but it was just too soft-focus for my tastes. "For Beginner Piano," however, aims for a different sort of childhood reminiscence, one that recaptures the essence of joyful Technicolor fantasia rather than looking back on it through mournfully rose-colored glasses. In fact, Plone recall a different set of spectacles - the green ones worn in the Emerald City. "The Wizard of Oz," suburban haunted houses, Pee Wee's big top and the soundtrack to "A Clockwork Orange" all echo through this 10-track wonderland of wind chimes, music boxes and purty/creepy cartoon synths. Rhythm is all but absent from many tracks, severing the connection with electronic dance music and keeping the spotlight shining on melodies so clean and bright you can practically see 'em gleam. In the impossibly innocent childhood of our dreams, fear and wonderment are one and the same. "For Beginner Piano" gives musical voice to the fast-beating hearts of our five-year-old selves.
I want you to think of a pile of rinky-dink keyboards like you might find at a thrift store somewhere. Keyboards with keys no bigger than the width of your pinky and a whole bank of goofy sounds with which to play with. Now that you've done that, imagine some very talented little kids jamming away on about 3 of them and you may have something that sounds somewhat like For Beginner Piano. While the name suggests that the players involved might be inexperienced, it's really the sounds on the album that make it what it is. I'm sure that the fellows behind Plone didn't mine their equipment from a thrift-store, but the majority of this album pulses with such gooey, goofy sounds that it's not entirely out of the realm of possibilities.
I've already mentioned the word "goofy," but I'd also like to throw out a couple more words for you like "cheesy" and even "spooky" at times. Over the course of 10 songs (none of which run too long fortunately), Plone plunk out just under 40 minutes of quirky little songs that most of the time sound like they could be the twisted theme to a cartoon you watched when you were a kid.
The album starts out with "On My Bus," and it twinkles and flutters along while a thick low end rumbles along just underneath the surface. It's the second track of "Top & Low Rent" where the group hits their first stride, though. With a keyboard noise that sounds like a harpsichord treated to sound like Kraftwerk, the track feels like a gurgling, futuristic track in sort of a baroque style. It's strange, but it works. Following right on the heels of that track is the vocodor sing-along of "Plock" (named single of the year for 1998 by Melody Maker Magazine and also off an EP of the same name). It's a light little summery sounding track that's hard to resist at least humming along with.
"Marbles" is a completely great little jaunty track that bubbles along just as the name might suggest. Coming at the midpoint in the album, it's a great track before the album slows down for a bit. The group even manages to work a bit of a darker edge into things on the track "Press A Key" before they drop the completely awesome "Bibi Phone." With their odd array of funny little noises, the group creates something that sounds like a spaghetti western (complete with horse-hoof like little click-clock of beats) for Gumbi and Pokey. Basically, For Beginner Piano sort of sounds like nursery rhymes played on old-school keyboards and souped-up with some great and interesting sounds. It's a great release for summer listening, and it might just remind you that acting like a kid isn't such a bad thing.
by Sarah Zupko
Electronic music works really well when it offers ferocious beats or when it employs complex textures and soundscapes that encourage you to become lost in reverie. It doesn't work well as lounge music, that is unless you don't mind something tame and bland to play in the background (and I stress, background) while you and your pals down martinis. Unfortunately, British trio Plone verge on that territory with For Beginner Piano, a record so steadfast in its politeness and unwillingness to intrude in your thoughts, much less move your feet, that it risks becoming elevator music. There's nothing disagreeable about For Beginner Piano, so I can't exactly pan the record, but to tell you the truth, I'd almost prefer disagreeable, at least then I'd feel "something."
The album starts out promisingly enough with "On My Bus," and the gentle mood works for a few tracks. Trouble is, the mood, beats and melodies rarely vary. If Plone really want to stay away from dancefloor techno and compose mind music, they're gonna have to mix things up a bit and they do have the potential to do just that. For Beginner Piano works best as really, late night music, but definitely not late night driving music, as it's likely to lull you into a peaceful trance so tranquil you'll be asleep at the wheel before you know it.
by Ryan Schreiber
According to an inside source (read: Plone's press release), Plone formed in Birmingham, England. They immediately went to work "creating sounds and ideas for songs." Then the guy who runs the independent label Wurlitzer Jukebox put out their debut 7". After their first single was released, they finally started to go out and buy equipment. Take a guess as to what kind of gear they bought-- that's right! "Old drum machines, analogue keyboards and effects." So far, these guys sound pretty inspired.
Plone's goal, apparently, is to create instrumental electronic pop music. Hence, their concept: "timeless electronic melodies." They really are timeless, too, if you take that to mean you'll spend little or no time listening to them. I guess For Beginner Piano sounds nice enough, though. You've got your lilting, somber retro-future music ("Summer Plays Out"), your haunted forest music ("Press a Key"), and the incidental music for a lost level from "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" ("Marbles"). Sadly, Boards of Canada already beat Plone at their own game with the release of 1998's Music Has the Right to Children.
On For Beginner Piano, the Plone guys just barely step over that line from being serious electronic experimentalists like the majority of their labelmates, to writing nicely-executed but predictable Sega Genesis music. No, it's not so bad if you can stay awake, but it's terribly bland. In fact, it's the new elevator music. Just wait and see if by 2010 doctor's offices aren't comforting their unhealthy visitors by playing this kind of low-volume ambient pop music over the lobby P.A. And if nothing else, I can at least guarantee one of these tracks will show up in a luxury car ad before the year's out.
Like so many songs being sold to hip marketing campaigns these days, you can listen to any of For Beginner Piano's ten tracks for hours without ever noticing they're there. (I had headphones on, too.) If these guys could just pick up the pace for a moment, or put some neat effect in there, or even just change the bpms-- anything to keep me interested-- this would be a whole different record. Unfortunately, fate's chosen a different path for Plone-- one of everlasting obscurity and used bin damnation.
by Matt Ashworth
"Plone are synthesizer songwriters, creating timeless melodies for electronic soundtracks." So reads the Birmingham band's press release. What that means, basically, is that Plone is three nerdy guys who twiddle with knobs.
Luckily the nerds - Andy, Mike, and Mark - have quite an ear for melody, a trait not shared by many of their knob-twiddling contemporaries.
Which means that unlike most electronic music, For Beginner Piano isn't completely impossible to listen to. There's some groovy little vocoder vocals, breezy bossa-nova beats, and enough Muzak-synth melodies to fill a thousand Palm Springs’ nightclubs.
So while some of Piano is annoyingly hummable, (the well-received first single "Plock" is pretty darn cool,) the rest sounds like the soundtrack to a movie you probably wouldn’t want to see. The album also occasionally makes me want to kill everyone within a half mile radius, then shoot myself in the face. I think that means it’s good art. At least that’s what somebody told me once when I was in college.
For caring, confidential help for all ages, visit the Sandy Plone homepage.
by Alex Steiniger
At the intersection where dreamy pop landscapes and electronica beats meet you will find Plone, a group of three from Birmingham who are self-described "synthesizer songwriters, creating timeless melodies for electronic soundtracks." On their latest, For Beginner Piano the three dig deep into another realm to create mysterious soundtracks for every aspect of life.
"On My Bus" is the sounds in your head you'll feel whenever you walk into a situation that is either potentially dangerous or potentially rewarding, like a job interview, a new relationship, or down a dark alley.
"Plock" is a sunny, tropical electronica number. One that wouldn't be out of place in a happy dream about you getting the girl you've always wanted, obtaining your most prized goal, or accomplishing something you never thought you could.
"Busy Working" is your stress song, one you can play to calm yourself down when the whole world seems to be knocking at your door, demanding something you can't possibly give them. And then there is "Press A Key," the whirly daydream number that is all about sitting about and relaxing too while you're trying to sneak in that valuable nap before your next appointment.
Weird, subtle, and fascinating, Plone develop songs that can be used for almost anything in your life. Some might call them the background soundtrack to your daily routines. It's a very different, yet refreshing album sure to find countless hours in your player. I'll give it an A-.
by Jason Morehead
When I was a kid, my brother and I would go to sleep at night while listening to this old record called Switched On Bach, a collection of Bach tunes played on old Moog keyboards. I can't explain it, but I was fascinated by the odd warblings and fluttering sounds emanating from that old stereo, and I insisted on listening to it every night while falling asleep.
Plone's debut reminds me of lying awake at night, captivated by those vintage sounds that seemed so strange, and yet so comforting. Unlike some groups which use vintage keyboards as a garnish, or others which use them for parody or kitsch value, Plone writes actual songs with, what I assume, is probably the biggest collection of analog synths on the planet. And they keep their songs short and to the point. Unlike some electronic groups which try to expand on musical ideas that just get tired and boring, the songs on "For Beginner Piano" remain delightfully short. Brevity being the soul of wit, and all that. Thankfully, they even keep the use of the vocoder to a minimum, only intoning silly rhymes like "Every day/come out and play/come out for me/sit in a tree" ("Plock.")
It's not easy for a band to create music that sounds so sugary sweet and precocious, and yet still remain charming and enjoyable. It's odd that the weakest material on here is the stuff where Plone gets "deep." On "Busy Working," they emulate a trip-hop feel and on "The Greek Alphabet," they sound like an obscure Italian or French soundtrack if done by the Moog Cookbook (rather than said group's normal fare of 90s grunge and 70s stadium rock). But there's still something enchanting about it, especially on the closing "Summer Plays Out" where Plone takes their playfulness and injects a delicate, orchestral feel not unlike the final moments when a music box starts to wind down.
album's best moments are definitely in its most whimsical, playful
moods, where Moogs and vintage keyboards bubble and froth over hopscotch
beats and rhythms that seem to be channeled straight out of an Apple
IIGS. Plone attempts to create what they call "timeless electronic
melodies," which sounds pretty lofty and egotistic. But on
tracks like "Marbles" (which sounds like the theme for "Tron"
if it had been directed by Hayao Miyazaki), or "BibiPlone"
(which could be theme music from a Pokemon