When I was a kid, my brother and I would go to sleep while listening to a record titled Switched-On Bach, which featured 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.” They emulate a trip-hop feel on “Busy Working” 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 musicbox starts to wind down.
The 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 egotistical. 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 Pokémon car chase), they come pretty close to doing just that.
This review has been slightly re-edited since it’s original posting. Thanks to Shari Lloyd for catching the goofs.