Posted in Album of the Month, New Albums

February: Prize – Rozi Plain

I’m a big fan of mystery in music. By that I mean, listening to something and not quite knowing what it means, or what the words are saying, or what the melody is doing – but somehow, mysteriously, being moved by it. Bowie is, of course, the master of this, and Kate Bush likewise. But it’s always great when you come across something in the corner of the musical universe that is somehow not quite like anything else. You couldn’t quite say what genre it is, why you connect with it, or why it specifically speaks to you. Rozi Plain falls squarely into that category for me.

I first came across Rozi via This Is The Kit, the Bristol based folk-rock band fronted by the brilliant Kate Stables. And I first came across This is The Kit, bizarrely enough on a Maison Kitsuné chill out compilation sometime in the late noughties, when I was still taking my daughter to nursery, because I remember how much she liked the song ‘Two Wooden Spoons’.

Rozi P is a member of that band and tours and plays with them, as well as forging her own solo career. I’ve loved This Is The Kit for a long time, though interestingly I would say that they are a folk/folk rock/alt folk band. Whereas I’m not sure what Rozi Plain is. Anyway, I first came Rozi via Kate Staples, and at some point, I must have decided to listen to her 2016 album What A Boost.

Everything about that album is ‘unassuming’. The cover art, where Rozi has her hood on a raincoat, back to camera, facing a field. It’s like a not very good camera photo. It’s not artful, it’s very ordinary. She doesn’t look like a pop star at all. She never has, actually. I’ve never seen her do a ‘photoshoot’. Anyway, if I’m being honest, I liked but didn’t love that album. I guess I was expecting This Is The Kit v2, but actually it much more subtle, introspective and – yes – unassuming. It sounded like it didn’t mind if you listened to or not, it was there anyway, quietly existing in it own little corner.

How I underestimated that album. Because in the last 3 years, I bet you it’s one of the albums I’ve played the most. I return to it like a lost friend and I’m always happy to see it. And here’s the thing – I still feel like has a mystery to it, like I don’t quite know what it is. But it got under my skin like nothing else. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to describe her music, and I think that what is has is a lot of SPACE. It’s not folk music at all, the songwriting is pop music, but has an openness and a slight wonkiness that makes me thing of jazz more than anything?! Is that just me?

The mix and instruments are wide apart; it’s not fussy, it’s not trying too hard. It’s intimately produced, everything up close in the mix, and the really clever icing on the top is Rozi’s double tracked (ALWAYS double tracked!) vocal, both perfect and flat and, again, unassuming. No vocal ticks, no showing off. Subtle AF. But my god, it’s effective.

So to this new album, which has moved her sound and the conversation about what she is and what she does on considerably. This is squelchier affair, a lot more synths and swathes of electronic sound. But what remains is that commitment to the subtle, the mysterious and the gently persuasive. I don’t want to get hung up on a whole gender thing and resort to any stereotypes, but I do think this is a very female take on songwriting – it is insistent but it’s not trying to show off. And I get that someone could listen to this and miss the whole thing. To be honest, I was worried when I chose it that you all might feel that way too, and it’s been heartening to hear that she’s connecting with you.

So what’s going with the songwriting. Let’s start with a slightly fanciful quote from her own Bandcamp age:

The music of Rozi Plain has always felt like a freeze-frame. A colourful and graceful snapshot of the world, paused, suspended in time, and then gently toyed with, like stepping out of the linear world as we know it.

Yeah, I know, it’s a bit much, but it does touch on something. The songs kind of in a here and now. They’re about a current conversation, something that’s happening in real time. That’s actually quite unusual!

In Agreeing for Two, she sings:
“What should we call it
If nothing will do?
It’s nothing we’ll do
But what should we call it?”

I mean, who knows what the argument/discussion is about. But we know that feeling, right, about not being able to find common ground in a relationship?

All the way through the album, there are refrains in the lyrics that are repeated so often they’re like mantras:

If it’s a feeling/That’s going/When it goes/You even know/Help for you/Help for you/Help for you..

My god, that could be anything. Depression? The end of a relationship? Trying to help a friend? I love that space these songs give you to make sense of them in your way. Prove Your Good goes even further, reducing most of the whole song to that mantra (note it’s not Prove ‘YOU’RE’ Good but Prove YOUR Good i.e. prove that you have worth).

I’m going to go even further and do the worst thing possible: quite Pitchfork:

Working with minimalist guitar, gentle vocals, and an understated rhythm section, Plain constructs a careful lesson about the awe of being present in the moment.

Back to that thing about time again. Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back to her work. Listening to it puts me in the moment. I’m here and it’s now. I can work to it, I can relax to it, I can think to it. Can’t think of many records that’s true of.

I’m already loving this as much as the last record, and I’m also really grateful that it feels like a significant musical step forward. She’s not staying put, she’s on the move. And I’m very happy to be on the journey with her. Very much looking to your thoughts on this fascinating album!

Posted in Album of the Month, Music chat, podcast

Podcast Episode 29 | Ab Soul | Herbert

Ep. 32 | Everything But The Girl | Fuse This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

In Part 1 we explore the new Everything But The Girl album Fuse,  and ask is it worth the 24 year wait? In Part 2 we play Spin It or Bin It? The theme this month is new music … tracks that have been released since Feb 1st 2023.Part 1 | Album of the Month | EBTG | FuseIt's Nolan's choice this month and we go with the long awaited / not even expected 12th studio album from Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. It's rare that we get to talk about an artist that we all have a significant relationship, but this is a great example. In January we got treated to the track Nothing Left to Loose but the album offers much more. It's got just about every type of EBTG track you can think of and some of their best tracks ever.Go listen to the album – HereGo watch some videos – HereGo buy some of their stuff – HereSome links that we reference and recommend; Pitchfork interview – Click HereBBC Radio 5 Live interview – Click HereEBTG in conversation at Rough Trade – Click HerePart 2 | Spin It or Bin It | New MusicIt's been a few months since we did new music so here we go. There's a definite whiff of summer in the air!Nolan chose – Amplify by Rodriguez Jr.David chose – Mo Se B'ola Tan by The Estuary 21 Joey chose – Sandrail Silhouette by Avalon Emerson Guy chose – Everybody's Saying That by Girl RayIn order to chose our tracks we create a long list, then a short list of 4 tracks each. Each of our 4x track short lists are collated here … have a listen. *** Enjoy the episode ***We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look –
  1. Ep. 32 | Everything But The Girl | Fuse
  2. Ep.32 | Kelela | Raven
  3. Ep. 31 | Young Fathers | Heavy Heavy
  4. Ep 30 | Rozi Plain | Prize
  5. Ep 29 | Ab-Soul | Herbert

Our first AOTM episode in 2023 finds us exploring Ab Soul’s ‘Herbert’ in Part 1 and we focus on New Music for ‘Spin It or Bin It’ in Part 2.

Part 1 | Album of the Month | Ab Soul | Herbert

It’s Nolan’s choice this month and he’s taking us to his spiritual home – Hip Hop with Ab Soul’s late 2022 release, ‘Herbert’. For once, we’re all coming to this artist pretty fresh . Nolan’s been banging on about the singles from this album for like 6 months so giving the album some extended love seems a natural choice.

If you’ve not heard it, we think it’s well worth a listen …

  • Go listen to the album – Here
  • Go watch some videos – Here
  • Go buy some merch – Here 

Our discussion focuses on how we’d describe the album, mental health, suicide and how these topics impact the album, the length of the album, the bangers and of course we touch on a few of the clangers too.

We mention a few things that we’d highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;

  • YouTube interview with Charlamagne Tha God – Here
  • GQ interview – Here
  • Joey’s alternative, 10 track playlist that focuses on the bangers – Here
  • Guy’s alternative, 11 track playlist that focuses on the narrative – Here

Part 2 | Spin It or Bin It | ‘New Music’ (Nov ’22 onwards)

We all pick a tack based on a theme and present to the rest of us to ask the simple question, Spin it or Bin it? The theme this month is a simple one ‘New Music’. The only rule is that the track has to be released after November 2022. We chose albums from as far a field as Doncaster and Russia.

  1. David chose – ‘Nothing Left to Loose’ by Everything But the Girl 
  2. Nolan chose – ‘Like a Heart Won’t Beat’ by Skinny Pelembe  
  3. Joey chose – ‘Let’s Hold Our Hands Together’ by Kito Jempere
  4. David chose – ‘Gorilla’ by Little Simz

Next Month

David is in the hot seat for AOTM and he’s bringing Rozi Plain’s new album ‘Prize’ to the table. We’re all getting stuck in and seeing how we live with the album for a month or so. In Part 2, ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ will be a good one too … the theme next month is Protest Music.

We’ve been writing the blog for years come and have a look –

Posted in Album of the Month, New Albums, New Tunes

AOTM January – Ab-Soul : Herbert

As we start of a new year of what I imagine will be another year of fantastic music, I like many am still mopping up the spill over of late releases in 2022. An easy choice for this month’s album of the month would have been either the new Stormzy or Little Simz releases which are both exceptional. But they have had a lot of well deserved coverage and I’m sure most of us are well into their releases being in heavy rotation. Instead I’m bringing to the table and album that is complicated, and I’m confident is going to be a challenge to at least 2 of the 4 of us. Why? Because it’s an album that I think shouldn’t be missed. The album I’ve chosen is Ab-Soul’s ‘Herbert’. 

Ahead of the ‘why’, it’s important that we delve into the ‘who’. Cards on the table, though I’d like to say that I’m a big fan of hip hop and have a fairly extensive knowledge I don’t actually know that much about Ab-Soul or his music. With the exception of his membership in Black Hippy and being signed to TDE my knowledge stops there. Most recent articles focus heavily on his debut album ‘Control System’ and how his conspiracy theory lidded rhymes made him popular with underground hip hop heads and built him a strong following that lauded after him over his next few albums. All of this passed me. Though he’s signed by TDE, they have released his music independently whilst the majority of TDE artists such as Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, etc. have released their music through major labels such as Interscope. Previously happy with his underground path, Ab-Soul has admitted on numerous occasions recently that this latest release carried a heavy amount of pressure to break him into the mainstream. Part of the plan was to move away from his conspiracy theories and create an album that was personal and more of a reflection of him. 
Like the 3 others on this blog / podcast I have approached this album and artist with no history and previous impressions. Impressed by the initial singles I was expecting a well produced collection of solid songs.  What I found is an album reflecting an artist’s internal and external turmoil, raw emotions, and a journey. 

Not long after the release of Herbert, Ab-Soul confirmed in and interview with Charlamange that after completing the majority of the album he tried to commit suicide by jumping off of an overpass close to his mothers house. He largely blames substance abuse and the loss of his best friend for the attempt, though suicide has haunted Ab-Soul over the last 10 years with both his ex girlfriend Alori Joh as well as previous collaborator Mac Miller both taking their lives. Digesting this and the time of when many of the songs were recorded brings an immediacy to many of the tracks and exposes layers in the lyrics that I missed on the first few listens. 

In a recent NPR interview he talked about ’the disconnect with the people around him that matter the most’ and how he dealt with this. Much of it is channeled through ‘Herbert’. The album is a journey, a musical memoir, it has a district start, middle and end. Songs interweave into each other as Ab-Soul works through his journey to getting to where he wants / needs to be. 

Starting off with ‘Message In A Bottle’, the album is perfectly set up laying out his frustrations and ambitions. Whilst ’No Report Card’ gives us a hint of his state of mind through the recording of album with the chorus of ’so-low, don’t go so low, may day, grade a, no report card’ whilst dropping hints of frustration through lines like ’solar system, I’m sick of planet earth’. 

Released last April, ‘Hollandaise’ was the first single from the album. It was the track that made me sit up and pay attention to Ab-Soul. I love the swagger and confidence of Ab-Soul on the track. It reminds me of Jay-Z on Reasonable Doubt. The beat also throbs of the Cali hip hop I grew to love in the early 90’s. It also sets Ab up perfectly for the next track ‘Moonshooter’. 

My favourite track of 2022, Moonshooter is as close to hip hop perfection you can get. There are so many lines I love in this song, but the stand out has to be: ‘Hopped of the porch like, “One of these days I’ma hop out the Porsche”, caught up in a daze’. I’m not sure why, but it always sticks with me and makes me smile. The song alone paints such as great picture, and the video adds a next level to the track as it depicts two young boys and the mischief they can get up to on an average day. 

‘FOMF’ is the first song that I struggled with on the album, it’s not my bag. With that, I can imagine the younger (under 40) listeners will really like this track as it’s got the trap feel that all the youngsters are into (I’ve shuttered whilst writing that). I can imagine a bunch of youth’s bouncing around to this will mobile phones in the air…. doing a trap dance to it. 

Ab quickly won me back with ‘Goodman’ which samples one of my favourite tracks ‘Am I A Good Man’ by Them Two that we featured previously on Spin It or Bin It. It sits nicely at the midpoint and sets up ‘Do Better’ perfectly. 

Whilst ‘Moonshooter’ was my favourite track of 2022, ‘Do Better’ is my theme song for 2023 as Ab highlights how he can always improve as the brilliant sample of Nick Hakim’s ‘Green Twins’ haunts the song. 

Though the first half has a positive feel, the second half is a stark look into Ab-Soul’s mind at the time of recording the track. Do Better, thought touching on suicide, was recorded before his suicide attempt. Ironically it feels like he wrote it after. Soul has highlighted that his suicide wasn’t a direct attempt. It was driven by being under the influence and effect of his own drug use. Ab’s line of ‘Doing drugs was just a war with boredom but it’s sure to get me’ sadly foreshadows real life events that were soon to follow.  We’ve talked on previous podcasts about the recent trend of artists, especially hip hop artists opening talking about mental health openly. For me this song is a glowing beacon towards the positive on a very dark subject, though I question its’ dynasty if events had ended differently. 

‘Gang’nem’ slightly sidetracks the emotional flow of the album, but is special. I recently was listening to a conversation with Talib Kweli and Yassin Bay where they were discussing the concept of reality rap. Hip hop is a product of its’ environment and as it has taken over the mainstream I think some listeners forget about its’ roots. ‘Gang’nem’ taps into the gang affiliations that Ab-Soul grew up with and brought me back to hearting tracks of gang tales in my early days of getting into hip hop. Not to glorify gang culture, the track gives us a reminder that within much of metropolitan America, gang culture is still prevalent. 

‘Wildside’ gives us a midway break through ‘Herbert’, though as we get to the second half I find the album hits some bumps in the road. For the brilliance of some of the songs in the first half of the album there are flaws in the second half. ’The Art of Seduction’ isn’t my personal cup of tea, whilst ‘Bucket’ and ‘Go Off’ aren’t to the level of the album and find themselves lost in the over all feel of the album. ‘Fallacy’ brings you back into the fold ahead of the James Blake produced ‘Herbert’. The title track is a reconning as he faces into his demons and layers of positivity start making their way into the album. 

‘Church On The Move’ brings light to the album, it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album. I can see this as a single. The opening lyrics are a statement of intent. 

“I sip my drink, I do my dance
Don’t throw no stones, don’t hide my hands
I played my part, I play it well
I trim the fat, still tip the scale
I fought that fight, I fall like Hell
I ran that race, I tripped, I fell
I got right back up (yeah)”

‘It Be Like That’ and ‘Positive Vibes Only’ continue to bring us to the light of the album as the inspiration of his journey continues to break through, ahead of the DJ Premier produced ‘Gotta Rap’ which brings his boom bap MC credentials to the table as he states: 

“I even tried suicide and I don’t know whyI know better than most that the soul don’t die
Took a leap, shattered my leg and lost some teeth
And I’m still standing behind every word I speak, peep”

Ab-Soul has highlighted that the track was originally recorded before his suicide attempt, but it was important to re-wrote the lyrics of the song inline with where he wanted to leave the album. 

Ab-Soul has created an album that serves the listener with some fantastic tracks that are catchy and should lead to streams, social media trends, and other tick box exercises that most artists and labels now focus on. As an album, Herbert is unintentional journey that unearths the path that he has fought through in real time. Though he’s a seasoned veteran of hip hop, you get the feeling that he is an artist with a new drive, and this album is the start of what could be an incredible run as an artist.  

Presenting this album for our monthly review is risky, I get that it’s not everyones bag. Guy’s not going to like the language, Joey will think some of the lyrics are throw away and lazy, and David will need to spend more time than he perhaps has to dig into the lyrics (though when he does they will click). What I can guarantee is that when you commit to this album it’s an album that will stick with you.