‘Blink’, the closing track on Rozi Plain’s fifth album ‘Prize’, with its “Blink if you love” refrain, feels like the perfect metaphor for her musical approach, a series of quiet but meaningful gestures. Her latest record contains elements that could be expected from her songs, an appealing indie, folk, jazz, minimalism hybrid with a voice that is understated and avoids flourishes together with her self-built guitar with chords broken into cyclical, meditative patterns. However, there is an increased expansiveness to the sound with a cast of 16 other musicians participating from regular collaborator, Kate Stables of This is the Kit, through to Serafina Steer on harp and Alabaster dePlume adding some memorable sax contributions.

‘Agreeing for Two’ sets the mood, a song about how easy it can be to make decisions with the best intentions on behalf of others while subconsciously plumping for what suits you best, the meditative but bubbling groove of Amaury Ranger’s bass bolstered by the sheen of Gerard Black’s synths, Stables’ vocals and the breathy flutter of dePlume’s sax. In a similar vein, ‘Complicated’ examines coming to terms with self-consciousness and has notable but sparing use of Eiichi Shimasaki’s steel drum.

‘Help’ is the stand-out track, a piece of mystery, camouflage and transformation. The sax disguises itself as strings, guitar dons the cloak of an accordion while perhaps the keyboards are imitating a musical saw conjuring recollections of the film ‘Delicatessen’. It is a song that subtly undulates with a graceful melody underneath.

The lyrics have a haiku-like quality. While not mirroring the form, there is a pared-down, mysterious but conflicted element as illustrated on ‘Prove Your Good’ with its puzzling call and response, “What do we want? / Less / Do you want more? / Yes” amidst delightful guitar and bass interplay. ‘Conversation’ poses a similar riddle (“What is it if it’s not? / Is it love when it stops?”) with the synths masquerading as a horn melody.

A celebration of scummy situations retreating, ‘Painted the Room’ is sprinkled with Danalogue’s twinkling synths and a mesmeric quality. The delights continue with ‘Sore’ featuring Emma Smith’s wall of violins, further distinctive pleats from dePlume and a dub-like sense of space. The synth, sax and circular guitar pattern give ‘Spot Thirteen’ a woozy feel while Plain whisper croons “Lucky Thirteen” like the world’s least effective bingo caller. ‘Standing Up’ introduces itself with a jolt, a nearly raucous blast before quickly calming itself, although synths later leap in with dynamism and Plain plots what could be the record’s manifesto (“Standing Up / In the full blue of newness / The future / The past / Introduce you to each other.”)

While Plain is an artist pursuing her own distinctive furrow who seems unlikely to suddenly veer off course and release something unexpected like a drill or hardcore record, ‘Prize’ represents a fulfilling broadening of horizons and her best album yet.

Rozi Plain: Prize – Out 13th January 2023 (Memphis Industries)

Rozi Plain Video

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.