Listening to an album without first reading any information on it, or discussing it with anyone, can be a liberating experience. It can occasionally lead to dissatisfaction and despair, or it can occasionally lead one to hear an album, which is overflowing with surprises. “Terra Animata” by The Plum Magnetic is a shining example of the latter. To give the reader some idea as to what is meant by this, the album contains music performed by electric six-string banjo, guitar, tabla, bass and drums, and if that were not enough to whet the most cynical of appetites, the influences on here range from reggae, African, “post-rock”, Afro-Cuban, jazz to Indian classical music. Listing the influences is easy, now to attempt to describe the music.
The album opens with a vocal chant ‘Spring’ before melting into ‘Trece Leches’, nine minutes of what can only be described as lilting jazz-fusion performed on a tropical island. The banjo and slide guitar lines weave around each other gently nudging the rhythm track into what could almost be “post-rock” if anyone really knew what that was. As the piece progresses the tempo and ferocity intensify whilst the steel drums (yes, steel drums) add another ingredient to the mixture resulting in a deliciously sultry finale. So now the listener believes they know which direction the album is going. After a subtle, almost “prog-rock”, introduction, that would not be out place on an early Camel album, ‘Sweet Confusion’ changes direction into a reggae piece, whilst all the time taking a nod to that “prog” introduction. At times one could almost hear mid-1970’s Frank Zappa if one listened closely. ‘The Electric Jungle’ is a delicate and intricate balance of gently cascading guitar/banjo lines, which propel the piece over five minutes.
Many of the pieces here are around the nine minute mark and criticism has been made elsewhere that the tunes become a little “long-winded” and meandering. Depending upon your own point of view and inclination, this could also be considered as something to relish. ‘SeshBesh’ is, on the surface, a modest guitar based instrumental with a sprinkling of highly intelligent solos. But successive listens reveal further layers which reward close attention.
There is no blistering guitar runs, or shredding apparent, but there is considered construction and delivery. Both ‘Parallax’ and ‘The Delicious’ continue to display these characteristics, but each adds further instrumental elements. The tunes twist and turn and move through a number of moods in the way that many think of “progressive music” nowadays, but The Plum Magnetic, however, are doing so with a concoction of instruments that are making this genre their own.
The final piece, and title track, “Terra Animata” is one of the rare vocal appearances by Trent Ciolino and provides a stirring and refreshing finale, complete with mournful trumpet and motorik guitar riffs reminiscent of the Congolese soukous style of playing made popular by such joyously buoyant bands such as The Bhundu Boys.
The band was formed in late 2011, and was born out of members jamming in Afro-Cuban, reggae and African sessions, in a variety of heterogeneous line-ups. These disparate influences are glaringly apparent throughout “Terra Animata” and indicate a band that truly understands the connotation of that rather nefarious phrase “world music”.