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Francis Plagne - Into Closed Air LP

Francis Plagne - Into Closed Air LP


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With Into Closed Air, Francis Plagne returns to the songcraft that’s been the bedrock of his music since his debut, 2006’s Idle Bones. Since then, Plagne’s music has see-sawed between a particular, parsed kind of art song and explorations of home-made musique concrete - though to see these as distinct practices understates Plagne’s capacity to layer and fuse these two tranches of his music making. This capacity has reached its deepest articulation yet on Into Closed Air.

For those who’ve been following Plagne’s music over the past two decades, through nine albums on labels like Black Truffle, Penultimate Press and Horn Of Plenty, or on his concurrent collaborations with Andrew Chalk, crys cole, James Rushford and Joe Talia (in Food Court), and Julian Williams (in The Inevitable Orbit), this won’t necessarily be a huge surprise. What is remarkable about Into Closed Air, however, is its duality of summation and variation, the way it ties a bow around the music Plagne has already made and suggests new ways forward.

Foremost in the songs here is expanse. The three songs on Into Closed Air took some years to compose, with Plagne’s modular approach to songwriting allowing the material here to take unexpected turns while never feeling mismatched or ‘bolted together’. The joins aren’t present, but the songs move through their landscapes in surprising ways. There is a wistfulness of sorts that borders but never descends into whimsy; an intelligence and playfulness that’s still deadly serious about its craft. In this respect, and given some of the decisions made in arrangement, the songs here can remind of the solo music both Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers made after they left The Soft Machine. The parallel with Ayers and The Whole World feels particularly relevant, given the way this music moves through winding passages of controlled but spiky improvisation.

The side-long “Benches of Snow” hints at something else, an interest in and love of the music released on ECM during the 1970s – Plagne mentions Kenny Wheeler’s Gnu High and Eberhard Weber’s Silent Feet as significant reference points. Plagne’s backing musicians for the album allow for just the right kind of fluidity and clarity in their playing, with James Rushford, Maria Moles and Alex Macfarlane all on board throughout the album. Parts of “Benches of Snow” hint back at Mayo Thompson’s almost aleatory approach to songwriting, too, following the thread of a melody to its unpredictable conclusion.

Framed by the always careful, considered lyric writing that Plagne brings to his songs, an Ashbery-esque quasi-abstraction that sketches around the contours of story and image, Into Closed Air is Plagne working at his most fluent, while never forgetting the joy of the moment.

- Jon Dale