Oblique unfolding

The world of stable objects and simple, obvious relations between them is not the real world. It’s one we like because it’s easy to think about, but it’s a fantasy, lacking in both beauty and truth. Truth emerges in art when it makes its way obliquely between the big colourful blocks with which the cognitive consensus is populated. And what a wonderful thing it is when art does that, what a relief, what a boost. Rozi Plain, who I knew previously only from her bass playing with This Is The Kit, records music that is playfully oblique, enigmatic on its surface, but welcoming to the listener.

Her lyrics are associative chains of wordplay, that rather than stating meanings, unfold them: she follows words where they lead her, seeking out what it is they might signify, taking the attentive listener with her in a collaborative quest for their gist. So it’s never obvious, never ‘I did this, you did that’, never ‘something happened and it made me feel like this’—but it’s always recognisable nevertheless. While it’s rarely possible to identify any concrete content in her songs, there is a clear affective sense, a portrait built up across the whole of the album of a gently charismatic narrator, amused, warm, centred and detached.

The emotional stakes are not high, which is neither praise nor opprobrium, but which does make a welcome contrast to the histrionics common in popular music. particularly that which makes claims on ‘authenticity’. Feeling no need to persuade us of her ‘passion’ by letting off the big guns of intensity and expressiveness, Plain has made What A Boost a cool album, a place of wry humour and delicate, enveloping textures, whose meanings are emergent, not scrawled across it in red paint. There is a place for emotional intensity in music, and for passionate declamatory singing, and there is equally a place for calm observations, delivered with melodious simplicity.

The arrangements are gardens of light and shade, poised rhythms articulating genial harmonies and scintillating timbres with a delicate, straight-eighths swing. There is continual sonic invention, worn lightly. The accompaniments sit at a nuanced mid-point between groove and riff, built up in layers from coherent phrases, with nary a thoughtless, space-filling beat or strum to be heard. It can be hard to keep faith that there is anything remotely progressive left to be done with the raw materials of pop and rock (leaving aside the misuse of that word as a stylistic label), but What A Boost has gone some way towards restoring it for me. It is rigorously creative music, doing the hard work that most avoid, of finding a space for novelty within the recognisable and the pleasing. The few months I’ve spent with this unusually beautiful album have been happy ones.

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