Before the Tate Modern moved to its new home on the south bank of the River Thames, it was cited in a far more regal building in Pimlico. The mixture of classical architecture and a selection of significant modern art presented an interesting juxtaposition. Certainly, for me, the experience of Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals hit me like an ambient sledgehammer. Whilst the paintings have a sombre alien quality, the particular gallery in which the huge canvases hung was bathed in a muted light, like that on an overcast day. The walls painted a warm grey to further amplify the strangeness of the paintings shifting deep reddish ochre layering. The room was designed in accordance with the artists wishes and to this day, it’s one of the most moving total art experiences I’ve had, light years from any white cube notion.
Similarly, Rural Objects by Francis Plagne has strangely magnetic strength in subtlety laced through its 12 shifting vignettes. Throughout this recording is a huge variety of instruments – layering guitars, fretless bass, organ, keyboards, flute, ocarina, hand percussion, drum machine, zither and rubber bands (with a guest appearance from long-time friend and collaborator Joe Talia on drums on one piece). The album hangs like a subtle drift, a drawing in sound, melting in and out of consciousness. Imagine early 70’s Pink Floyd doing Another Green World… Everything is so beautifully understated and dusted with a dreamy psychedelic tangents and currents.
I settle into a gentling repeating chiming pattern revealing a low-key dynamic in beautiful ripples. II has a squidgy tumbling quality and shuffles in and out of focus. The album is named after a John Ashbery’s poem Rural Objects which itself is a gently ambiguous distortion of form and meaning. And, as always with Plagne’s work, the music feels like a component in a larger work. Whether that’s a sound tracked country walk, a backdrop to reading the poem or simply to fill a place with its sounds, it’s an immediate delight.
Things head into stranger spaces with the odd reflections of III, like a modern fly through of Jet Sex by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band before zoning out into a metallic plateau. IV pulls back into the sunlight with a beautifully dappled guitar melody and oily pooling electronics. Joe Talia’s drums joins Plagne on the brief jazzy daydream of V before the night sounds and thick bass texture of VI drift by…
VII builds a metallic zithered standing wave before the off-world birdsong of VIII chirps around before slowly corroding. IX draws out a pillow of agitated percussion spinning around itself. X is a thick bank of fog slowly clearing drifting into the vapour trail of a guitar solo on another planet in XI. And the concluding XII has little more than a stuttering agitation slowly consumed by space.
Last year’s beautiful collaboration with crys cole Two Words was like the elements of sound and song begin sensitively separated into their constituent parts. Rural Objects feels like a more varied exercise in some ways and only further spotlights his thoughtful creative arc. Like the peripheral sense in that room full of Rothko’s, the cumulative lower-case effect of this 38-minute album is starling.
At the very edge of pattern and texture and its seeming lack of attention seeking is actually hugely appealing. Rural Objects is a gem, it’s immediately present and welcoming but has all the type of cues that highlights it’s just as much an album to pick your moment wisely and dream a while. Fragile and total unmissable.