Announced way back in April 2010, Heavy Meadow was supposed to be Anni Rossi’s second album for 4AD but for some reason yet to be disclosed the record never materialised beyond the preview track, ‘Crushing Limbs’. Over a year later, big-hearted Welsh label 3 Syllables Records leap to the rescue to give the album life beyond the internet. The trouble with Heavy Meadow is that it’s a somewhat perfunctory exercise in polished, mellow electronic pop that may alienate more of Rossi’s fans than it wins her. Rossi is a classically trained violist and a true master of her instrument, but this curious move towards a more homogenised sound does her musical dexterity few favours.
Rossi is unabashedly a pop fan, having previously covered Ace Of Base’s ‘Living In Danger’ on 2009′s Rockwell – and, more recently, Rihanna and Aaliyah – but on Heavy Meadow she attempts to subvert the conventions of the genre. The prosaic musings of album opener ‘Candyland’ aside, it swiftly becomes clear that Rossi’s strategy is to conceal dark, sometimes violent lyrics and startling imagery behind a sweet, wholesome pop sound. It’s an approach that has worked well in the past for The Cardigans and numerous others, but here it falls rather flat. Rossi’s delivery is for the most part blank and uninflected, and the album’s musical palette is surprisingly limited. Manipulated and synthesised almost beyond recognition, the range of expression of Rossi’s viola is truncated awkwardly as her imaginative recording techniques go sadly unmatched with compelling musical ideas and production.
Too many songs here fail to live up to their dramatic titles. ‘Crushing Limbs’, for example, throws away a fantastic, Crystal Castles-esque moniker on a plodding track that’s devoid of surprises, enlivened only by some gruesome lyrical imagery. ‘Hatchet’ varies the pace a little with some tense bass and an interesting stop-start structure, but at less than three minutes it is over before it has time to build into anything satisfying or coherent. Things eventually pick with the more developed ‘Switchblade’, the sultry, repetitive ‘Frame Me Right’ and closing number ‘Safety Of Objects’, where Rossi finally nails the sound she’s spent the whole album trying to develop, but she never really hits her stride. Some of the lyrics might raise an eyebrow, dealing as they often do with bodily torment and destruction, but they have to vie with some seriously pedestrian instrumentation and production to reach the ear. For an ostensibly light and poppy album, Heavy Meadow is rather heavy going.
[3 Syllables; May 23, 2011]