Rosa Chance Well – S/T

Oh god. So hard to type with my arms wrapped around a pair of speakers. At first this whole piece was just one long sentence, rambling and rambling, page after page, about what a fantastic discovery this record was. I could barely bring myself to stop the disc long enough to write coherently. I tried to whittle the review down to a manageable length. Really, I tried. But what could I possibly remove without cheating the reader? You need to know how great this record is, and in how many ways.

The truth is that I’ve developed a little crush on Rosa Chance Well.

The easy way out is to make the obvious comparisons: Rosa Chance Well displays a similarity to The Spinanes, both in arrangement (although RCW relies on more standard chord structures), and in singer Vanessa Downing’s resemblance, vocally, to Rebecca Gates; the pop shimmer of the track “We Wore Long Sleeves” sounds for all the world like a Belle & Sebastian tune being sung by Heavenly. “And So Then Were We” builds a groove reminiscent of Bettie Serveert; a fascinating, minimalist cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” evinces a trace of Cat Power. But where Chan Marshall seems to evoke preciousness for preciousness’ sake, Vanessa Downing inhabits her voice far more comfortably. If she wavers in her delivery, it’s only in relation to the mood of the lyric-never simply for the effect of seeming frail. Downing’s voice is always confident and secure.

And yes, sexy. There. I’ve said it.

The album opens with a small, gorgeous song called “A Wonderful Life,” which slips in under the sound of clinking tableware and coffeehouse chatter, riding one chord for a long time, while Downing sings lightly: “From afar, cross my heart / you were sent by the stars / valentine, be mine / we will have a wonderful life.” And as a second guitar joins in with a gentle lead that mimics Downing’s vocal melody, it’s impossible not to develop a crush on her. When that single chord finally shifts, and she sings “and it’s all right, with you in this world / and I’m all right, with you now,” I was sure that she was singing just to me, and my heart swelled right along with the guitars.

The second song jolted me out of my reverie, beginning as it does with the single fuzzy bleat of an electric guitar (an audio statement that perhaps says ‘not so fast there, you moony-eyed dolt.’), which then retreated in favor of a slinky bass line and jangly, reverb-y guitar. When Downing sings “It’s dark as hell / deep in the well spring / silver echoes from where gravity let go,” I begin to lose myself in how pretty it all is…then after a verse or two Dean Taormina’s fuzzy guitar sneaks back in, reminding me not to get too close…oh, but then it mixes with that chiming guitar, the drums course up in the mix, and Downing starts in with the wordless crooning chorus…how can I resist a chorus of ba-ba-ba’s? And yes, definitely, I am completely in love. I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. On behalf of critics everywhere, I apologize for this appalling lack of professionalism.

But the whole record is truly a dreamy delight, filled as it is with a constantly shifting and surging bed of atmospheric guitar washes and anchored by subtle, low frequency bass (played mostly by Taormina but provided in places by Jeff Goddard of Boston band Karate), and consistently strong lyrics. Elsewhere on the album, Gavin McCarthy (also of Karate) and Chris Brokaw (of Come) offer further instrumental assistance – on drums and guitar, respectively.

And here is where I can’t really edit my remarks for readability. Caught up as I was in the mood of this album, this is as close as I can get to deciphering my own scrawled notes, taken while I was in the throes of hugging my stereo and pretending it was Rosa Chance Well: at the end of the record, “Drink Drank Sunk” begins with a halting voice and barely-there guitar, and you don’t even notice that it’s building, building and building, adding elements in the subtlest of ways, still building, and then oh my god, this whole gorgeous waterwall of sound comes crashing over you about three-fourths of the way through, and you feel like you’re swimming submerged in these ringing guitars and perfect little snare hits…and then just as quickly the water recedes, the instruments begin to fade, and you want nothing more than to keep floating there until they all come back…but they don’t come back. The song ends. A new one begins. You notice that it’s the last song on the record. How could eleven songs have gone by so quickly? You think about backing up, listening to that last one again, because oh god, how calming that gentle voice feels, but then this one, “Bell’s Inn,” seems to have something pretty amazing going on, a slide guitar that recalls Mazzy Star for a minute before it gives way to a plaintive trumpet solo. And you think, a trumpet solo? Where did that come from? But then the slide guitar is back, just for a moment, and then it’s only a guitar and Vanessa Downing’s voice, and she’s singing to you: “And this is the end / of a night at Bell’s Inn / you come and you go, will you come back again? / ‘There’s another one down the road,’ she said.” And the record ends.

You’re in love; you’re coasting on it. And you have no choice but to start the record up again.