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!
6 thoughts on “February: Prize – Rozi Plain”
Lovely write up brother David. And I’ll have a proper run at this later on, but you’ve brought up quite a few of the themes and thoughts I’ve been having. I felt it wash over me on first few listens and thought it was lovely but wasn’t sure if it would be anything more than a sort of warming backdrop, a welcome serenity. But that’s because of how I listened. It’s this slowly opening flower that I’ve finally seen the beauty of this last week.
Funnily enough, I’m so used to struggling to get into AOTMs and having to put the time in that this was a complete reverse. They danger was I didn’t put in enough time.
Some topics I’m putting out there….
– The energy of Tunng and LUMP.
– Tuned percussion
– Synths as a ‘voice’
– The beauty of simple percussion
– This phrase from the Guardian review: “Listening to Rozi Plain is like searching for shapes in the clouds.”
So. I know life is fucking busy for everyone … but we need to get better at getting write ups and multiple responses up sooner. This isn’t a pointless bitch and moan … it’s a necessity. Reading David’s write up, commenting on whats app about it and then reading Guy’s reply has really opened avenues that I had not considered in depth before and the album is starting to reveal itself.
As per usual, I’ll write in semi-coherent bullets for clarity and brevity and to cover up my complete lack of writing talent;
– What the fuck is this? How do you describe this to someone else? Its close to impossible and I think that’s a good thing
– Is it the most crepuscular album evs? Dawn or Dusk? Who cares … but it ain’t a midday album?
– I know she hates being called folk and I know David doesn’t think it is … but almost any comparison I make with other music involves the word folk
– It is a natural human thing to find comparisons and similarities between other things that you know, you can call it lazy or reductive or what ever, its a thing, we all do it and this music owes A LOT to folk of all sub-genres
– BIIIIIIIG Tunng vibes for me (Folk-tronica)
– But also big ‘jazz’ vibes too … if there was a jazz dartboard, this quite clearly isn’t bullseye jazz, it might not even be on the board, it might be an inch or two off the board to the bottom left but there are many things ‘jazz’ about this
– This is clearly reinforced by Alabaster DePlume
– I get big Dirty Projector vibes here too … it’s free formness, it’s use of vocals as instruments, it’s willingness to break rules
– Guy wrote ‘Synths as a voice’ I genuinely wrote ‘voice as a synth’ – SOOOOOO much of the album’s heart and emotion is delivered through immaculate ‘backing’ vocals. It takes really careful listens to distinguish what is voice and what is synth (and in some instances what is woodwind)
– Rozi doesn’t ‘arrange’ instruments she ‘places’ them, each in its perfect spot, the simplest of guitar tracks is placed precisely where it should be, the perfect distance from the next
– But this never feels like it’s been done out of pain staking perfection (LoneLady?) it somehow feels organic free
– ‘Agreeing for Two’ and ‘Painted the Room’ are the clear stand outs
– I think I have not yet finished my journey with this album … it’s not fully revealed itself yet. I don’t yet fully ‘get it’
– But i am really enjoying getting to know it
– Big Mutual Benefit vibes for me too
After what was an intense month with Ab-Soul, this album has fit perfectly into my world this month. This album us rainy day music, slow Sunday music, walking through the leaves music…. January music. Funny enough, my sister that lives in Melbourne has been loving this album as well in the depths of an Australian summer, I can see myself also listening to this on a summers morning with a cup of coffee.
I cannot say enough about the perfectly spaced out sounds on this album. Do we know who produced it? They have done a splendid job.
Admittingly I’ve not paid attention to the lyrics at all. I can’t. I find them hard to focus on, although I’m paying attention. Does that even make sense?
The album passes you by in a lovingly way. ‘Painted The Room’ is a lovely musical journey. ‘Sore’ seem to be the track that I’ve paid the most attention to the lyrics though they still pass over me. I think she’s trying to talk to a friend that’s not in a good place? I’ve had a similar reaction to ‘Blink’… ‘Blink if you love me’. Is it just that simple?
I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m really enjoying this album, though I’m not sure why. What’s the message? Does it need a message? I guess not.
Also…. her vocals are serene. They are almost like another instrument and less of a lead vocal.
I’ve had a bit more time to think about this record in what is a suffocating few weeks of work and life. And it’s been a total balm. There’s so much that I’ve got from this record and I can’t entirely elucidate what that is, but perhaps that is what is. So I’ve gone looking.
There’s a lot of positivity out there from critics, who have a vocabulary I’ve been trying to land on, and from which I’m going to shamelessly steal: ‘silvery’, ‘ebb and flow rhythms’, ‘attuned to the power of repetitive flow’, ‘quivering energy’, ‘beautiful, chaotic depth’. Because this is a record that both washes over you, but also leaves something on you, even if you’re not quite sure what.
From Agreeing For Two’s breezy opening, where you try to pin down what ‘it’ is. A baby? A relationship? Internal psychodrama? Each listener must have their own view, but the simplicity in those words ‘ What shall we call it? / If nothing will do / It’s nothing we’ll do /
But what shall we call it?’. Both nuance, and glimpses of meaning, but also wordplay. Songs where nothing quite lands or settles, either lyrically, emotionally or musically. So many start simply – such as this song’s opening strum – but soon are enveloped by synth lines, sax, bass, otherworldly sounds that sometimes act as their own voices on top of Rozi’s double-tracked vocal. The effect is often hypnotic, but also mystifying. They’re the songs I wake up with in the morning in my head, feeling the need to put the album straight back on, even if I’ve played it round and round, trying to soothe my overactive mind.
But dismissing this as simple psychedelic folk-pop (?) would be a disservice. It is an exercise in layering, of collective musical ambition, where Rozi’s slowly gathered a group of like-minded musicians that allow her vision to coalesce over ten songs. Melodies and motifs shimmer into view, then dissipate into something else. Songs start jarringly sometimes (Standing Up) before finding form. Or start cleanly before dissembling (Blink, made with jazz Saxophonist Alabaster DePlume, and feeling as free as any of them on the album), or Prove Your Good’s austere opening before its second half opens into wide-angle freedom. Such simple foundations – acoustic guitar, subtle, but direct percussion – around which the music can pull off in all directions.
There are two obvious (vinyl heads, hiya) sides, starting with two of the strongest and most energetic songs on the album, the aforementioned Agreeing For Two and the lead single Painted The Room. But even within those ‘sides’, there are lovely changes of page, emphasis and invention. What started as a very pleasant listening experience that I thought may come and go, has wound its way into my consciousness in the most beguiling way.
Listening to older work, there’s a clear lineage, and seeing how things have developed until any presence of ‘folk’ is so far back into the mix and the melody that it’s a vapour, as much a small part of a much bigger, more interesting whole. And if folk is a dirty word here, then so be it. I don’t know what genre this is, but it fits into a lovely, odd, beautiful, intriguing corner of music that I’d happily while out my days in.