Anni Rossi – Heavy Meadow

January 01, 1970

(3 Syllables)


A classically trained violist since the age of three, Anni
Rossi has long had an unusual set of sounds in her arsenal, not just the traditional
bowed or plucked string sounds, but a variety of knocks, slaps, swipes and
assaults not found in the classical repertoire. Her live performance is an
impressive hybrid of baroque and punk, where Bach cantatas and the Slits rise
to mind, and sometimes surprisingly close together. For Heavy Meadow, however, she has laid all that aside. You hear very
little viola in these bouncy synth-pop songs, and when you do, it has been
clipped and clamped and processed so that it sounds like a traditional rock instrument,
keyboards usually, but sometimes guitar.  


Heavy Meadow‘s
burble-y, synthetic vibe should not come entirely as a surprise – Rossi has,
after all, had a cover of Ace of Base’s “Living in Danger” in her set list for
several years. And, let’s be fair. Surely every classically minded prodigy has
occasional pop diva dreams. But it seems odd when an artist tosses the one
thing that makes her unique over the side, blithely replacing it with mid-1970s
pop artifice. It’s not quite like Zola Jesus waking up with a Captain &
Tennille fetish, but it’s close and a bit disturbing.    


The thing that saves these perky ditties from blah-ness, is
the lyrics, which are dark and subversive and nearly always at odds with the
musical mood.  The titles give the game
away – “Crushing Limbs,” “Hatchet”, “Switchblade,” and “The Fight” – intimating
that these carefully manicured songs deliver dangerous sentiments. “Switchblade”,
for instance, is all lucid girl pop on its surface, Rossi’s voice never rising
much above a sweetened croon. Yet there’s menace and violence underneath, as
the song swoons over a bad man (“bad ma-aa-an,” coos Rossi)  who will “do you no good.” Likewise “Crushing
Limbs” bubbles and pops, all keyboard tootle and ska-like guitar upbeats,
Rossi’s viola skittering in and out of view in the background. You could easily
mistake this for the breeziest kind of mid-1980s new wave, Bananarama, maybe,
except for occasional macabre asides (for instance, “spider fingers squish my
ribs/squeeze the guts out and let it rip”).


Rossi toughens up her guitar sound for “Texas Plains,”
generating a frictive heat and urgency that earlier tracks were missing. Her
vocals turn a little wilder, too, with Sinead O’Connor-esque yelps and flutters
adding a fillip to certain lines. But even here, on one of the album’s stronger
tracks, you have to wonder whether this is the best possible use of Rossi’s
talents. The world is full of pop synthetic Gagas and Xtinas and Britneys and
Rebecca Blacks, but punk pop prodigies who can play the viola properly – and
also like a guitar, a drum and a banjo – are thin on the ground.


Plains,” “Switchblade” JENNIFER


Leave a Reply