Review Summary: First, skill. But above all, musicality.
Instrumental progressive metal is a very recent discovery for me - a byproduct of unintentionally falling into the black hole of Youtube searching for upbeat-but-non-distracting music to study to (seeing as how I haven't studied in seven years; I needed something to assist in the motivation of actually cracking open a textbook). Turns out, I ran across a number of albums that immediately became more than background noise to me - they were truly wonderful musical experiences that astounded me. But where some reach staggering technical heights, precious few artists consistently craft approachable and creative albums that nonetheless refuse to betray the rigorous discipline and massive knowledge base that good progressive metal draws from.
Of those artists, Plini is at or near the top.
I got into Handmade Cities
in a huge way the first time I listened to it, immediately purchasing it and keeping it frequent rotation everywhere from the couch to my office and everywhere between. Fans of that beautiful audio journey will be happy to know that Sunhead
is a shorter but equally satisfying follow-up, and shows an advancement in Plini's craft that futher causes it to completely defy genre nomenclature.
At only four tracks and twenty minutes in length, Sunhead
technically classifies as an extended play - but it's a far more complete an album than many so-called "full-length" projects acheive. The album wastes zero time - unpacking all the subtlety and musical genius here requires multiple spins, and there's not a moment where Plini become lazy. Every song is immaculately constructed from start to finish, with each song forging its own identity: each contains recognizable motifs constantly modulated in interesting ways and accompanied by some truly impressive lead guitar work from Plini himself. It's all underpinned by an equally talented rhythm section that practices a modicum of restraint, saving the controlled chaos that is asymmetrical rhythm for moments when it adds to musical nature of the whole, rather than subtracts from it. When Plini's signature jazz-metal fusion threatens to become repetitous or gratiutous, "Salt + Charcoal" throws in layered background vocals to add a unique and breathy texture to the mix, and "Flaneur" even introduces a captivatingly groovy synth keyboard solo and saxophone solo halfway through the track before returning later to those same organic-sounding instruments for a straight-played smooth-jazz epilogue. The title track finishes things off in spectacular fashion with consistently refreshing takes on the same jazz riff. The worst that can be said about Sunhead
is that the opener, "Kind," is only about as good as
anything from Handmade Cities,
whereas the other three tracks are even better.
But it is a very short album, and that can't be dismissed - ten more minutes of Sunhead
would have transformed it from a great album into a masterwork. As it stands, it's all over just too quickly. With that said, Plini made it clear that they aimed to create a dense and tight shortform album - they absolutely succeeded, and if you need twenty more minutes of progressive metal in your life, Plini have provided some of the very best. It's no wonder Sunhead
leaves off the "EP" moniker - if twenty-minute albums were always this good, most forty-minute projects would seem positively overstuffed by comparison. Sunhead
is a truly impressive (and impressively approachable) work of art.