Album Reviews

Anni Rossi – Rockwell

(4AD) UK release date: 9 March 2009

In case you didn’t know, Anni Rossi is the most exciting thing tohappen to the viola in… well, forever. Dumpier and lower in rangethan its cousin the violin, the viola is like the back-up singer thatknows she has better tone than that screechy old Beyonce, but ain’t asflashy.

Rossi sets the instrument free, dishing up, with Rockwell,punchy pizzicato over syncopated rhythms, with the occasional howlingrun of strings. Ladies and gents, the Devil may be close to giving upthe fiddle.

Granted, you will likely have heard quite a bit of Rockwell before.Machine, Venice, Ecology, West Coast and Wheelpusher all make it overfrom the Afton EP, and form the central tracks on the new album.

But Rossi has worked well with producer Steve Albini to clean upthe tracks, and pick up the pace, making them sparse and wonderful,like intricate machines. Albini has also, it seems, encouraged Rossito let go of her tendency towards screeches and yelps, which shouldput rest to all the comparisons with Joanna Newsom.

Ecology in particular has come the furthest, and tends toovershadow opener Machine. It’s a poppy, driving track, that fills outthe usual empty spaces in Rossi’s music with the addition of ’70skeyboards. Lyrically, it’s a bizarre little meditation on thelife-cycle of the butterfly – you could almost imagine it appearing onThe Electric Company with helpful charts and live footage – but Rossimanages to haul it back to the right side of kitsch… just.

Elsewhere it’s all about that beautifully warm and high voicecontrasting with the viola and railing against sudden tempo changes.The West Coast is even more mournful than in previous versions, whileDeer Hunting Camp 17, is the most welcome of the new additions, takingthe form of a creepy ditty dedicated to a teacher. You’ll findyourself singing “That’ll be all, Mr Hunt” at just about everyopportunity, earning alarmed looks from strangers everywhere.

Odddly,this most fascinating of pieces is placed right next to Living InDanger, the Ace Of Base cover that label 4AD are bigging up.It’s cute, sure, but once your brain catches up with your ears itbecomes more and more of a gimmick.

Glaciers is probably the least successful of the new additions.It’s a bit forgettable, a bit too obvious: “This is a song aboutglaciers,” runs the opening line. Well, it’s good we got that clearedup straight away.

Fortunately, it fades into the magnificentWheelpusher. Nowhere else does Rossi achieve such beautiful symmetrybetween her lyrics and her music. She croons: “To be a beekeeper inthe Himalayas,” and you can just feel that delicate mountain air, aswell as the absurdity of the concept. Air Is Nothing rounds upproceedings, and is a fairly traditionally structured ballad, saved bybeautiful execution.

So, it seems that 4AD is on to a winner with Anni Rossi. Notunexpected, really – they’ve got the most intelligently selected andpresented roster in the industry. About the best compliment you cangive to Rossi is that she really does fit there. At 23, she’s also gota whole lot of room for development. We’ll see just how far she cantake that viola of hers. Perhaps to hell and back.

Let’s pray, though,that she gives up on looking like a lost character from Twin Peaks inalbum artwork – it’s so disconcertingly creepy that you’ll want tohide the cover to Rockwell safely out of view, even while listening toRossi’s music.

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Anni Rossi – Rockwell