Review Summary: Zeal and ardour.
Plini is seemingly the benchmark for successful "bedroom musicians" these days, whether one loves it or not. The Aussie's appeal to independent youngsters with a passion for creativity, as well as older crowds seeking the technicality of guitar greats but the accessibility of modern rock means his nimble fingers are the subject of many debates regarding the sound of up-and-comers. The man's knack for detailed soundscapes and dynamic writing is pushed to the max with this album; this is undoubtedly the best work Plini has ever put to CD. An instrumental, progressive release to rule them all for 2016, Handmade Cities
presents Plini at his most energetic. This passion wears a little thin towards the middle of the album, but some brilliantly exciting performances surrounding it push excellence to the forefront.
"Electric Sunrise" and "Cascade" bookend this record, and rightfully so. The former acts as an indicator of what is to come, introducing the tone of the record. It is a vibrant start; "Electric Sunrise" is wildly dynamic. Bouncing from heavy, progressive grooves, to jazzier interludes, to massive walls of sound and soaring leads, the song encapsulates everything the album to come throws out. The title track draws heavily from the main chorus and initial progressive grooves, and "Inhale" pulls almost entirely from the mellower jazz side. "Cascade" looks back at Plini's prior work, and almost acts as an ode to roots. It is without a doubt the most disjointed song on the record, but its implementation of everything that has built up until the formation of this record gives it a remarkably familiar tone. Frantic builds, angular riffing, rapid transitions, and stop-start drumming all equate to a youthful force only seen in the opening track.
This zeal and ardour within these tracks doesn't quite translate well into the middle of the album, however. "Every Piece Matters" attempts to walk the sombre line, and while it does prove to be just as addictive as the other songs featured here, it hardly stands against the likes of "Inhale" and "Cascade". It persistently feels as if it wants to build, but never does. The same can be said about what I had hoped would be the album highlight, "Pastures". It is a brilliant track, but Plini's immediate and active writing style doesn't translate well to a seven minute song. However, as a showcase of the talents presented across this record, it still holds some merit. Fellow Australian drummer Troy Wright lays down an absurdly precise performance all throughout the record, throwing in interesting fills and multi-layered syncopation around like it is no one's business. His performance peaks with "Cascade", though he tends to follow songs a little too closely, and is rarely given spotlight attention. Simon Grove's bass work however, is given plenty, part in partial due to a large presence in the mix. His solos are wonderfully implemented, and he follows the rhythm guitar with ample lenience.
There is something refreshing about seeing an artist solidify their sound. While his EPs are instantly identifiable, Plini has set a standard both for himself and for aspiring solo musicians pursuing ingenuity. The pairing of the addictive with the complex is expert in execution, without compromising trademark vigour. Handmade Cities
manages to bring joyful technicality to a multitude of contexts with catchy melodies and fretboard aerobics, while still retaining solid structuring and dynamic compositions. There is no genre-bending abstract nonsense, no needlessly drop-tuned low-fret chugging. Just really accessible prog written by a man who never undermines a good time.