What comes from Minnesota is an absolute mystery to me. But, I do know that Anni Rossi and her mind-boggling musical talents are positive byproducts of the Midwestern state. On her just-released full-length, Rockwell, she forges boundaries and endures vocal leaps and bounds to present a work that is simply decadent. What’s even cooler is that Anni named her album after her Chicago address, where she recorded the work. How many artists are that ingenious?
With her innocent vocals and an obvious love affair with her viola, Anni Rossi tears Rockwell wide open, but doesn't take kindly to overstepping boundaries. "Machine" is intelligent and peppered with her delicate, flowery voice. It is evident that Rossi loves her viola, but it takes a thorough listen of Rockwell to detect similarities between the instrument and her actual singing. Her varied vocal tempos and pitch melt beautifully with her fluttery style, creating something fresh and exciting; something always welcomed in the folk and indie realms.
"Ecology" opens with a rubbery, borderline techno-house keyboard, and segues into a clicking drumbeat. The track evolves into something glorious and nearly danceable, despite its short length. Accompanied by Rossi's indubitable, velvety voice, "Ecology" is sure to lure even the faint at heart, when speaking of indie/folk artists; Rossi is sure to make a name for herself with this track. Opening with the plucking of (probably) a viola, "Las Vegas" is cheery, just like “Ecology”, but might be likened initially to a gypsy-type sound. With her swift vocals as the sole complement of the plucking and a simple rapping rhythm, Rossi sets a very relaxed mood with "Las Vegas", let alone the remainder of Rockwell. With the introduction of a steady drumbeat halfway into the track, Rossi's questioning lyrics take flight and set the story in motion.
"The West Coast" is sure to find a permanent spot on ye old summer mix. With a story about interstates, a lack of air conditioning, and an almost unhealthy desire to finally reach the coastline, Rossi's work is perfect driving music, if nothing else. Rossi utters sporadic notes of joy and surprise on all of her songs, and "The West Coast" is no different. The song starts out very slow, but picks up tempo about halfway through, ultimately spiraling into a locomotive frenzy of chaotic viola, paired with incessant drumming. With such an energetic finale, I hope that Rossi reaches the West Coast soon, even if it is "a couple days away".
One more relaxing song, “Glaciers”, expands upon Rockwell’s natural vibe. "This is about glaciers", croons Anni Rossi on "Glaciers." Scaling upward with her infectious, almost childlike tone, she delivers a tale of an offbeat love for freezer boxes and eunuchs, and life situated beneath glaciers. "Glaciers" has everything: cold weather, mischief, and Rossi's indubitable talents as a vocalist slash viola player. Her plucky, rough style is both intricate and appropriate, if only because it supports her unique vocals, and "Deer Hunting Camp 17" surely testifies to that. It explores the depths of Anni’s talents as both a vocalist and a musician. On "Deer Hunting Camp 17", Rossi tells the tale of a hunter—or is she describing a cold-blooded sadist? Either way, she could be feeding me lines about psychotic murders, but with her willowy, billowing voice, I would not know the difference. What I would know is that regardless of the story’s context, Anni Rossi is fearless; she belts out stories about oddball deer hunters, but does so tidily, fastening the package together with her beloved viola.
If the title wasn't such a giveaway, I might have overlooked "Living In Danger" as just another installment on Rockwell, not recognizing it as an Ace of Base cover song. A Swedish pop cover...not typical of a folk artist, particularly one with a penchant for the viola, is it? (I didn't think so, either.) But, Anni Rossi has proved herself as anything but typical, especially when it comes to her style. Rossi's version is endearing and borderline cute, for lack of a better term, and her vocals are vaguely parallel to those of Corinne Bailey Rae. You really can't deny it: Anni Rossi has an adorable voice! With such an alluring tone as hers, I'd be almost worried to see Rossi tackle something by The Smiths or even The Police. For sure, she would have me at her feet, groveling for more. All in all, her cover of the trio's hit is a spontaneous, yet delightful and classy addition to Rockwell. Period.
"Venice" is filled with mystique, schizophrenic European-style strings, and a story of the daily trials and tribulations of the famous and literally drowning Italian city. Rossi flips around her style with this track; it sounds a bit more aggressive than the rest of Rockwell, but is still spattered with her narrative lyrics. In true classical music fashion, “Venice” breaks halfway through, and kind of meanders through a separate movement, sprinkled with drums and possibly a cello. But, the most surprising part about “Venice” is Rossi’s lip trilling. Yes, you read correctly: lip trilling. But, a heart-wrenching song about a sinking, historic city needs a lift, so what could be better than Rossi rumbling?
Is it different? Without a doubt.
Is it reckless? Maybe, but it’s absolutely necessary.
"Wheelpusher" might just be the most heartfelt, romantic track on Rockwell. The songstress is stung by the sneaky maneuvers of a “beekeeper in the Himalayas”, which sounds like a Jason Webley oxymoron. Rossi might be reeling with as she sings, but she has a most unique way of transforming her pain—whether metaphorically physical or emotional—into something really wonderful. She scales mountains of notes with her voice and pushes boundaries with her viola, an unexpected pairing of talents.
If no other song on Rockwell batters and leaves my heart on the floor, then "Air Is Nothing", the final track, takes the cake. This is definitely a song that would give Conor Oberst either stiff competition or an artist to collaborate with; Rossi journeys to all corners of the globe on this song, via viola. She mulls over the natural cycle of life, noting birth upward from the ground, walking through the air, and labeling air as nothing. With such a strong statement as that, I wonder: if air is nothing, are we all nothing? Whether or not Rossi’s intent behind “Air Is Nothing” was to propose a philosophical psychoanalysis, the track is sure to leave you curious.
All in all, Rockwell is sure to please people from all walks of life. Whether you’re a fan of string instruments, indie or folk music, this album might surprise you. Anni Rossi’s work is perfect music to drive, cook, or journal to. Her naturalistic approach to her music is something really special and unique. If you’re headed out for a stroll on the beach or in the local park, best to bring Rockwell along—you won’t be disappointed.
3. Las Vegas
4. The West Coast
5. Deer Hunting Camp 17
6. Living In Danger
10. Air Is Nothing