Every Bob Dylan fan knows 1965 as the year of the epochal Newport Folk Festival; the “Dylan goes electric” controversy. Recordings of this concert feature distinct crowd vocals chanting “boo!” In response to seeing their favorite folk singer playing a Stratocaster. This was a pivotal moment where folk as a genre of music was allowed to break out of its shell of being strictly for singers with acoustic guitars. Dylan’s incorporation of rock into his sounds was among the most crucial reasons as to why modern-day folk music at the most sounds like a distant relative of its predecessor from early-to-mid 20th century. In the time between these eras, an immeasurable amount of experimentation has been done in that genre and many new subgeneres had emerged.
While many kept true to the genre’s obvious protagonist — the acoustic guitar – the Bristol-based artist Rozi Plain allows herself to put that instrument all the way to the back of the mix, or bring it out, dependent on the mood and structure she is aiming at. The artist born Rosalind Leyden uses the folk genre (and some of its staples) as a base skeleton of her music, upon which she then builds a body which all but hides the folk bones. Just as Dylan went electric, Plain has gradually moved the acoustic guitar into the background in favour of other tones, which is most pronounced on her new album Prize.
Having started with the 2008 debut Inside Over Here, which is the one album of hers that is the most closely related to the most common notion of ‘folk music’, each of Plain’s subsequent albums incorporated more and more influences and arrangements from other genres. Until today, the apotheosis of her experimentation could be seen on the 2019’s What a Boost. This album contained nods to Blur, bluesy undertones, new wave-style synth and guitar work, as well as jazzy saxophones. Rozi Plain truly did go electric, for on Prize we detect a clear shift to completely new territory: synthesiser psychedelia.
While her style is so unique that it is near-unmistakable, on Prize she methodically plays down (or even removes) the aspects of her music that listeners can latch onto album to album. The guitars on this album enjoy a lot less of a spotlight, but also begin serving a different function: be it acoustic or electric, guitars now create post-punk-style rhythms and passages. Prize is in a way a slightly changed ship of Theseus — it poses the question: if folk has grown so many new facets, is it still folk?
A line could be roughly drawn between Plain’s lyrics and David Lynch’s intrusive thoughts. On Prize it is especially impressive how Plain’s thoughts, which are seemingly unorganised, somehow make sense to us. There isn’t really a way to explain Rozi’s words and thoughts other than with the phrase “yeah, I totally get it”, which inevitably enters the listener’s mind at least once within their experiences with this album. The lyrics on Prize do not require a rational explanation also due to their incredible synergy with the music they are enveloped in.
There is not a way to attach a snappy label to Rozi Plain’s style, and it constantly undermines whatever you might attempt to explain it as. Ergo, the lyrics fit perfectly into this picture as they are aimed to support the music in as much as it supports the lyrics. Plain is not trying to tell a clear story from point A to point B, which would distract from the dashing complexity of Prize’s arrangements. Rather, her lyrics add to the scenery and evoke images which either support or, sometimes, carry the music forward.
Rozi Plain is without a doubt a one-of-a-kind artist and deserves more attention. Subtle complexity may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that is yet another aspect of her music that is so impressive: unless paid close attention to, it will not appear to be all that complex. It will go down very smoothly regardless of the kind of lenses one views it through.