Often times, when Rosie Plain is about to perform live, her body shuts down. “It’s just so tired and I can barely keep my eyes open,” the English singer-songwriter explained. Underneath a veil of nerves, she undergoes rituals she doesn’t quite understand, such as frantically brushing her teeth or doing vocal exercises she doesn’t understand. indeed believe: It’s as if, as Plain tries to imagine what’s going to come down on stage, his brain gets tired, overflowing with possibilities. His fifth studio album, Prize:, can serve as an antidote. Working with minimalist guitar, gentle vocals and a rhythm section, Plaine constructs a careful lesson about the reverence of being present in the moment. Meanwhile, in 2019 What an incentive! was a concentrated breath, Prize: recasts its soothing presence as a state of mind to carry with you long after the music stops.
As the bassist for British folk band This Is the Kit, Plain understands the importance of subtle momentum, the kind that gives airy music a fiery passion. He echoes that approach Prize: with the help of his core group of drummer Jamie Whitby-Cowles, bassist Amory Ranger, guitarist James Howard and pianist Gerard Black, turning the laid-back instrumentation of “Help” into a cool, grooving single. Plain’s songs flow like streams of consciousness, all atmosphere and bleakness, and his layered vocal harmonies draw emotion out of that stillness. On “Complicated” and “Conversation,” he sandblasts the edges of the electric bass and guitar, creating the illusion that they’re sounding inches from your ears. An impressive line-up of guest performers including saxophonists Alabaster de Plume and Cole Pulis, Comet Is Coming’s Danalogue on synths, Trash Kit’s Rachel Horwood on banjo, and harpist Seraphina Steer, among others, contribute to the dreamlike quality of the music.
During the album’s 40 minutes, Plain’s character begins to develop. he doesn’t believe in the past as a compass or the future as a road map. He has no tinted lens through which to reimagine the world, nor a nostalgic fixation on old memories. Instead, Plain writes about his surroundings and how they make him feel present. He dismisses the past as merely what “was before you” and calmly embraces the future, suggesting: “What if it’s not there?” Time is out of his hands, and he knows that such denial is willful ignorance. As he says in “Prove Your Good,” “I like to say/It had to be this way.”
Plain’s apparent idleness as he struggles with indecisiveness and renews himself can be envious, that is, if the music doesn’t quickly put you in that same state of mind. He turns small details into foundational possibilities; a gorgeous swell of strings by violinist Emma Smith that trebles during “Sore,” like a sudden explosion of purples and pinks at sunset. The playful vocal harmonies shared by Plain and This Is the Kit bandmate Kate Stables on “Agreeing for Two,” echoing the warm ache of cheek muscles laughing too hard; Extended saxophone by de Plume in Thirteen Places, mimicking the feeling of watching the last breath of smoke rise from a fading fire. Plain’s solo music has always been rooted in a sense of calm, but with Prize:he also offers the understated beauty of viewing.