Are classically schooled pop musicians the future? Trained to make fewer mistakes, they can lower studio costs and don't require a small army of Pro Tools-tweaking engineers to sound professional. Take Chicago's Anni Rossi, a 23-year-old viola whiz. She recorded all 10 songs on this debut album with indie-rock titan Steve Albini in one day. Peppered with images of Himalayan beekeepers and pretty, hibernating bears who have lost their checkbooks, Rossi's stream-of-conscious lyrics appear improvised and the bare-bones arrangements seem as though they might've been knocked out on the van ride to the session. And yet Rockwell remains an engaging listen — or, at the very least, a potential instrument of torture to wield on the whimsy-phobic.
Whereas Andrew Bird typically treats his violin to endless electronic trickery, Rossi makes no attempt to disguise her viola: It sounds like a downtuned violin, and she bows and plucks it on nearly every track while chirping optimistic odes to imagined ecological disasters that Joanna Newsom might've rejected for being too kooky. "I think I could be OK with being flattened and living under glaciers," she kids herself during "Glaciers." "The landscapes will freeze us over and we'll be fine/Flinging ice and snow like little kids," Rossi reasons in "Machine." No fancy-schmancy, Pitchfork-schooled musical allusions for her: Instead, she covers Ace of Base's ‘"Living in Danger," but lends it a nonchalant air, as if she's not the least bit concerned about seeing lies in the eyes of a stranger. This pragmatist will outlive the recession and the cockroaches.