Terra Animata

The Plum Magnetic

Independent release, 2013


REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


When it’s ten degrees in the East Coast and it feels like negative twenty, nothing is more welcome than a dose of musical warmth. This self-released debut from The Plum Magnetic traverses a world of musical influences, all combining to form an eclectic and listenable melding of musical flavor. “Fusion” is a term that’s used often, but The Plum Magnetic truly embodies it – where else do you find a quartet whose vocalist also plays the electric six-string banjo while the guitarist doubles on the tabla, or where a single track is stuffed with everything from country to Afro-Cuban to classic rock to jazz and back again, all the while sounding fully natural?

After a quick twenty-second interlude, “Spring,” to start things off (incidentally, this is the best use of vocals on this disc, as I’ll touch on later), Terra Animata launches into “Treces Leches.” This track is the most indicative of The Plum Magnetic’s overall sound, or at least their tangle of diverse, self-described influences: African, reggae, Afro-Cuban, Indian classical, and American in the form of country, jazz, blues, and rock. In fact, vocalist/multi instrumentalist Trent Ciolino and guitarist Andrew McClean formed the band with a mutual love of Indian classical music after meeting at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music.

Indeed, “Treces Leches” has a little bit of everything, making it a fusion of world stew. Though it begins gentle and meandering, tethered by Jon Solomon’s bass and Andrew McClean’s assured guitar work, minutes later the quartet has ramped up into a steel drum-infused Cuban soundscape. Minute six sees the band morphing into a rollicking country lineup, replete with skittering banjo. Finally, just when things seem to be closing out in a softened, jazzy vein, the guitars click in again and the track shapeshifts into an energetic, roiling jam session. But never at any point does “Treces Leches” sound over-the-top, confused, or out of place; each new musical iteration sounds like natural growth. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The same can’t be said for the following song, “Sweet Confusion,” which lilts into full-on reggae. This is one of the only two (or three, if you count the gentle harmonies of “Spring”) cuts on the album with vocals, which should make it more of a standout; however, the loose guitars and even more shapeless vocals only detract from the variety and texture found elsewhere while the lackadaisical lyrics dip into genre clichés. While “Terra Animata,” the other vocal track, works a bit better with its electric, Latin flavor, again the vocals tend to detract from The Plum Magnetic’s overall vision. They’re just too laidback, not self-assured enough, and too far down in the mix to make a real impact. 

Fortunately, the rest of the instrumentals here amend the dip of “Sweet Confusion” and the title track. “The Electric Jungle” is tense and moody, outfitted with McClean’s frenetic, virtuoso finger-plucking accented by the melodic depth of the cello.

Meanwhile, “SheshBesh” finds guitarist McClean taking the reins on this seven-minute solo. Amid the slow-building swirls of guitar that pleasantly envelop you in a meandering groove, “SheshBesh” is rounded out nicely with some anchoring drums and jazzy bass accents from Oliver Burke and Jon Soloman, respectively. However, I would have liked to see a bit more movement in the arrangement here, akin to “Trece Leches” at the start with its hodgepodge of musical influences, which grabs the listener’s ear and holds on tight even as almost ten minutes pass.

Another standout is “The Delicious,” which is anchored by the thrumming heart of Soloman’s heavy bass and the ethereal, at times tender mood created by McClean’s acoustic guitar. There is a lot of movement in this track, from the weaving electric banjo to the flickers of bansuri (an Indian bamboo flute, played here by McClean). It’s an unexpected fusion of country, tinges of jazz, and more straightforward rock; the last minute and a half in particular is a sonic standout.

On their debut, Terra Animata finds The Plum Magnetic creating a fine example of genre bending; straight out of New Orleans, this is true world music, and you can tell that the quartet is enjoying themselves in the creation of these sonic soundscapes. Ultimately, though, I’m a wordsmith at heart, and so sometimes the lack of vocals here – or, the detracting nature of the times vocals are used – makes it hard for me to connect. Altogether, this makes Terra Animata a pleasant and impressive listen throughout, though I don’t know if it’s something I’d spin regularly for the sake of listening. But if you’re a fan of instrumentals or of any of the tons of genres that the band melds into their work, check this disc out.

Rating: B

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