CD Reviews - Noah and the Whale 'Peaceful,' Anni Rossi 'Rockwell'

Deep thoughts are buoyed by blithe tunes on Noah and the Whale's CD.
Deep thoughts are buoyed by blithe tunes on Noah and the Whale's CD. (By Kristian Dowling -- Getty Images)
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Friday, May 1, 2009

NOAH AND THE WHALE "Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down" Cherry Tree/Interscope ANNI ROSSI "Rockwell" 4AD

BRILLIANTLY SIMPLE and friskily infectious, Noah and the Whale's song "5 Years Time" has an old-timey style and sunny demeanor. Over little more than a ukelele, Charlie Fink and part-time member Laura Marling trill such choruses as "fun, fun, fun" and "love, love, love." Yet the verses reveal that "all these moments are just in my head." Although the London quartet's album "Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down" seems to celebrate happy moments, it actually cautions that earthly pleasures can't endure.

Sometimes boosted by a horn section, the band can sound utterly blithe on such tunes as "2 Atoms in a Molecule" and "Shape of My Heart," which mix 1920s ragtime and 1960s pop-folk. But the group (which took its name from director Noah Baumbach and his film "The Squid and the Whale") is as likely to sing about death as about romance. "If you don't believe in God/How can you believe in love?" asks the title track, just one of the lighthearted ditties that Noah and the Whale underpin with heavy musings.

When she switched from violin to viola years ago, Anni Rossi may not have been planning to swap classical music for arty pop. But the first change furthered the second, since the viola's deeper tones provide an effective contrast to Rossi's soprano. On her first full-length release, the bracingly unconventional "Rockwell," the Chicago musician's voice skitters skyward while her bowed, plucked and strummed viola sounds earthy. Devin Maxwell's drums or Rossi's own keyboards anchor a few tunes, but more typical are such rhythmically capricious songs as "Machine," on which Rossi goes "swinging crazily." Her eccentric course can be hard to follow, but it's worth the effort.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Saturday with Ferraby Lionheart at the Black Cat (202-667-7960, Show starts at 9 p.m.

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