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Rozi Plain - What a Boost Music Album Reviews

Like a half-forgotten dream, the English singer-songwriter’s combination of minimalist blues and free-floating jazz feels just out of reach.

Like slipping into cotton sheets, Rozi Plain’s music invites an immediate calm. Her songs, a combination of minimalist blues and free-floating jazz, are lucent and inquisitive. Plain comes by this effortless tranquility with extensive practice: A native of Winchester, England, she took up guitar at age 13, and as an art student in Bristol, joined Kate Stables’ jammy folk band This Is the Kit. Over the past 11 years, Plain has crafted three solo albums, moving from the intimate, unpolished indie-folk of 2008’s Inside Over Here to the cozy electronic embellishments and pop melodies of 2015’s Friend. Her latest album, What a Boost, is her most expansive and luxurious yet, proving her merit as a force of understatement.

Friend was the first full-length album to be recorded at the Total Refreshment Centre, a cherished space of the London jazz scene until it shuttered last year. Plain recorded the majority of What a Boost there prior to the closure, with the help of collaborators including the multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Chris Cohen, folk musician Sam Amidon, Trash Kit’s Rachel Horwood, Joel Wästberg a.k.a. Sir Was, and fellow This Is the Kit member Jamie Whitby Coles. She’s in good company—together, they forge a sound that feels driven by a collective subconscious.

Opener “Inner Circle” is a steadied stroll into Plain’s nebulous thoughts, a path that’s built as it progresses. A lone guitar melody is accompanied by minimal percussion and saxophone; later, there’s fiddle and a creaking guitar that sounds muted by a palm as tuning forks create a tinny haze in the background. Plain's voice is silvered and smooth, radiating the tiniest halo of fuzz as her vocals overlap one another. “Inner circle, in a square/Finds a line all the time,” she sings, describing the geometrical relationship of the shapes. Or perhaps she’s referencing the idiom “squaring a circle,” to attempt the impossible. The lyrics parallel Plain’s hunger for compositional progression and search for complex meanings; even when moving slowly, there’s no hesitation.

Though these songs sound light and clear, Plain’s lyrics are hallucinatory, adding to their perplexing nature. Her words are mirage-like, their meaning almost graspable but still vague, just confusing enough to escape full comprehension. What a Boost makes many mentions of dreams, illusions, and hauntings: “A dream, a dream/A realistic dream,” Plain sings on “Symmetrical.” When she repeats some of the same phrases at beginning and end, they’re off by a line or two, casting the song itself just slightly off-balance. “Strange about the change/Strange about the same,” she continues, substituting a conventional linguistic definition with purposeful phrasing that embodies asymmetry.

On “Conditions,” galactic sounds and twinkling synths splatter against a soft snare drum as Plain repeats questions like a mantra of consent and concern: “Is this the way for love?/Is this okay in love?/Are you okay in love?/Are you okay for love?” Her voice reaches a barely louder volume, marking the song’s climax with a direct address to another in a final sign of affection. This transition from introspection to outward-looking cognisance is a subtle detail, and part of what makes What a Boost such an exquisite treasure.

Dream logic can be asymmetrical, mimicking a sense of rationality but never quite connecting the dots. Knowing that you were asleep doesn’t unravel the subconscious logic, but it helps you accept its peculiarity. Like the moment of realization upon waking from a dream, the sprawling, elaborate compositions that cushion Plain’s lyrical ambiguity are a kind of tether to reality. These 10 tracks meander and crawl; they swell into percussive bursts and shrink into silence. To some degree, they feel inaccessible—unable to announce their purpose or direction. But that’s the beauty of What a Boost: Its mystery isn’t a gimmick, nor a playful riddle to be solved, but an abstraction awaiting interpretation.

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