Roger Eno & Plumbline ‘Endless City/Concrete Garden’ (Hydrogen Dukebox)

An impressive collection of subtle piano and electronica instrumentals

Precision, shapes, architecture, maps, the topography of cities… these are all established territories for Plumbline, aka Will Thomas. The New York musician once made an album based on field recordings taken around buildings in his home city (‘PinPoints’), his interest in urban structures as sources of sound sparked by having lived in and renovated a building by modernist architect Richard Neutra. In that instance, Thomas’s electronic experimentation was interspersed by cello played by Julia Kent, a classical artist whose forays into electronica saw her recently release a third solo album through Leaf. 

The interface between laptop fizzology and the most organic and traditional of acoustic instrumentation is clearly something of a fixation for Will Thomas. ‘Endless City/Concrete Garden’ is his second album with Roger Eno, who is also no stranger to notions of abstract precision in music creation and whose minimal piano playing is really at the heart of this work.

The album’s central idea – cities and gardens, finding the grass peeping between the cracks of the pavement, maybe catching the whiff of a smouldering compost heap in a New York alley – is an analogue for the juxtaposition of piano and electronics, perhaps. Thomas’s New York and Eno’s Suffolk homestead of Woodbridge are at the root of it (the pair swapped files and never actually recorded in the same room). The actual nuts and bolts are less easy to divine, the material being purely instrumental, but with projects like this (and their last collaboration, ‘Transparencies’) the process is the point and the music is there to speak for itself. 

It’s never less than pretty in its simplicity and some of Eno’s motifs coming through the electronica are enticing, making you wish for more development. But like clouds, they come and go, rearrange themselves into momentarily attractive shapes, and then disperse as if they were never there in the first place. Thomas’s glitch and electricity hacks up Eno’s piano, making it febrile in places, the fever of the city always encroaching, leaving the impression of having been a smart and rather lovely album.

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