And I know that I’ve known better
And I know that I’ve known worse,
But we’re stuck together
Like the witch doctor’s favorite curse.
Oh but the light shines through the window
Where the curtains never mend,
And there’s the morning sun
Like beginning once again.
(Arrica Rose, “Safety Pin”)
Every once in a while, I go through my pile of unsolicited discs sent to me by hopeful publicists and get a startling surprise. That was certainly the case when I popped in Arrica Rose and the . . . ‘s’ fourth album, Wavefunction. After Googling around a bit, in short order I realized I was not the first to have a difficult time trying to categorize the music of Rose and her compatriots. Indie rock? Soft pop? Not very helpful labels. The ethereal sounds of a poetic singer/songwriter and her band? That’s part of the equation. Dreamy, rainy day electric folk pop? Explorations of the moments between sleep and the morning when we’re introspective and lost in our own private worlds?
What made my grasping for descriptive terms even more interesting began when I read reviews of the album and the enthusiastic and often cerebral interpretations already posted on the ‘Net. As the album came out November 4 on vinyl, HDRAudio CD (a High Dynamic Range digital version of the vinyl audio), and as a standard digital compressed version available on iTunes, etc., critical responses have had much to do with what format reviewers heard. In particular, those who played Wavefunction on vinyl have been discussing the sequencing of the two sides because some believe Rose has a San Francisco/Los Angeles dichotomy on the record with one side representing one side of a long distance relationship, the other telling the same tale from the other city.
Not so fast.
According to Rose, sequencing was indeed very important. She believes that a good album is something to be experienced as a whole and not in selections pulled out for airplay. She told me the choices made for which songs were placed where was all about mood and tone. While some critics have emphasized the notion the album is about that two-city romance, Rose said there’s one song about going back and forth between SF and LA, but that was just one song (“California on Repeat”). When I suggested one of my favorite tracks, “Tiny Broken Boats,” seemed to be about a lover’s questions about a relationship, she replied that was an interesting interpretation. “It could also be,” she said, “about internal conflicts with oneself.”
So who are the personalities creating this elusory music? Of course, there’s the sultry-voiced Rose who is also more than capable on guitar, keys, mandolin, and the omnichord. She likes the latter instrument, as it helps give the sound part of its dreamy quality. She says the “. . .’s” – also known as the Dot Dot Dots—got that name as the ellipses is all inclusive and can embrace any number of players at any given time. Presently, the perfectly in sync band includes Marc Thomas (lead guitar), Steve Giles (bass), Ryan Brown (drums, percussion), with Kaitlin Wolfberg (violin) and Laura Martin (backing vocals).
Together, this collaborative ensemble wove together a gentle program using a wide palate of watercolors. Sonically, think contemporary Nashville for “Love You Like That” and hear trumpets and occasional xylophones giving a Western shading to “California on Repeat.” The vibrating guitar in the “In Dreams” takes us back to early ’60s pop of the “Teen Angel” or Roy Orbison variety.
Lyrically, I might be out on an interpretative limb, but the slow organ and violin hymn, “Safety Pin,” seems an obvious reflection on a dying relationship being held together by a flimsy connection. Likewise, the haunting, poetic “Cut It Out” muses on memories the singer would like removed. I won’t speculate as to what these memories are.
There’s irony in the two versions of “Oh the Day (Then the Night)” where the singer reaches out for her lover “like it mattered.” Hmm. While Rose might want her songs to be seen as more enigmatic than a first listen might suggest, there’s more than enough evidence to conclude a problematic romance is at the heart of many of the lyrics on Wavefunction.
In the end, not knowing all the mysteries is, of course, a strong attraction for Wavefunction, especially for listeners unable to resist multiple plays. As Rose urges, it’s an album to be experienced in its entirety and in the order the tracks are arranged. Rose’s vocal delivery is not the only seductive element for the collection, but it will likely get more than a few hearts aching just a bit more. And probably more than once to boot.
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