Graded on a Curve:
Arrica Rose & the …’s, Wavefunction

Wavefunction is the new record from Arrica Rose and the …’s. Available this week via Rose’s pOprOck label, it coheres into a highly individual whole, possessing a wide array of influences intermingling with large doses of personality and skill as vibrant youthfulness matches veteran confidence; the result is an 11-track LP of potential interest to indie rock fans and those fostering a predilection for older, long-enduring pop and rock styles.

Like all artists, musicians can be a guarded lot. For example, many display particular care in how they disclose and detail not only their biggest influences but also the background of their listening habits in general. Of course it’s a mistake to equate music makers with collectors or even frequent partakers of the output of others, but in Arrica Rose’s case she’s both.

A California-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Rose is quite forthcoming regarding the discs that spun throughout her formative years, revealing such on both her website and in a TVD First Date posted just a couple of weeks ago. And to look at a list of her favorites without context will provide no inkling into what Rose’s work actually sounds like.

But to read her relate the story is to discover a musician impacted by various indie scene developments, especially acts taking shape in the 1990s (Unwound, Low, Come, Elliott Smith, Superchunk), who also openly engages with a longstanding love for older forms, stuff defined to varying degrees as classic (Bowie, Tom Waits, Fleetwood Mac, Patti Smith, Big Star, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf).

As a teen Rose was a member of UXBY, a group that scored some sweet gigs opening for Jimmy Eat World, Hoobastank, and Commander Venus (an outfit featuring a pre-Bright Eyes Conor Oberst). After that came a detour for Rose into film studies at USC (alongside music and mystery novels, movies were a key aspect of her creative upbringing), though while in school she self-recorded a pair of releases and was soon studying sound design. Eventually music regained her primary focus and she’s been leading the …’s (say it Dot Dot Dots) since the appearance of debut People Like Us in 2006.

With Rose on vocals, guitar, keyboards, and omnichord, the core …’s on their latest effort are Marc Thomas on lead guitar, Steve Giles on bass, and Tripp Beam on drums. Additionally, Ryan Brown beats the skins for a few tracks as producer Daniel Garcia offers Moog, Hammond organ, electric piano, and glockenspiel. Kaitlin Wolfberg and Harry Kim are credited with violin and trumpet respectively.

The content of Wavefunction derives from Rose dividing time between Northern and Southern California, Los Angeles her home base, the Bay Area the locale of a romantic relationship. Both upbeat and darker songs emerged from Rose’s attempt at balance, and on this occasion content helped to shape form and format to beneficial effect.

To elaborate, Wavefunction doesn’t have a designated starting point. Instead of the typical numerical markers, there are just two sides, one livelier and the other more downtempo; as the vinyl spins the two different entry points naturally reinforce equally valid, deliberately devised trajectories. It’s an instance where the LP easily trumps a download.

This is not to suggest that pleasure is in short supply during digital listening. No matter the approach, the ear will be greeted by strength of voice. The substantially catchy ‘60s-ish “Song in Your Head” presents the range of Rose’s qualities on the microphone, finding her attractively sultry but with the gutsiness required to front an energetic pop-rock combo, the full-bodied singing big in the mix as she connects to hooky guitar, thickness of bass, and crisp drumming.

It’s a tune that would’ve fit snuggly into an mid-‘80s university radio rotation, but “Love You Like That,” flaunting a shaking tambourine, organ, vocal harmonies, and an R&B-descended horn chart, lands closer to the middle of the dial. A portion of Rose’s appeal is her ability to handle a tangibly classique boldness with nary an audible strain; it’s readily apparent on “Love You Like That” but also on the track following it, the winningly erudite “Tiny Broken Boats.”

Indeed, Rose emits a casual and momentary similarity to another Californian, namely Martha Davis, though the …’s playing is more forceful and effervescent than the later Motels. And “California on Repeat” finds increasingly personal lyrics enhanced by a veneer more than slightly reminiscent of the Buck/Nicks-era Mac and cleverly complicated by trumpet and chiming vibes evocative of the sophisto side of the indie pop genre.

Wavefunction’s contrasting yet complementary versions of “Oh the Day (Then the Night)” underscore Rose’s talent and the album’s overall success. On the sprightlier take she manages to extend the ‘70s singer-songwriter model into the next decade’s collegiate zone, while the slower, lengthier, breathier reading gently nestles into a downy pillow of dream pop.

A cover of the perfectly calibrated emotionalism of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” shows significant chutzpah on Rose’s part; frankly, the tune is so trademarked by its author that the possibility of anybody surpassing it is difficult to fathom. This one doesn’t, but it is powerfully and thoughtfully executed as trumpet steps in for the lilting strings, and it’s possible to briefly forget about Roy (and even of Dennis Hopper’s menacing Frank Booth uttering “Raymond…candy-colored clown…” in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet).

“Safety Pin” either opens the record or delivers the abovementioned shift, and it’s a superb piece of morning after achiness that’s nicely-written string arrangement adds to the ambiance. But the gradually unfolding “The Shallow End” and “Where You’ve Been” each nurture a roots-laden atmosphere, largely through the intersection of Rose’s vocal richness and Thomas’ deft twang. In between, “Cut it Out” exudes a contempo frame of reference as the string part smartly accents the rising and falling intensity.

Brandishing a tight stylistic center can generate an interesting outcome, but it can also quickly become constricting, running the risk of distilling sounds generic or inferior. Wavefunction sidesteps this circumstance as it avoids the blunder of grasping and/or grafting that broadness of influence can bring. Here, musical diversity is a true virtue, as is a healthy artistic appetite across the board.

A bio on Rose’s website states that she exchanged “her dreams of directing a film in order to cultivate her inner rock-star.” Fair enough, but with this LP she and the …’s have created an extremely cinematic experience. Or more appropriately, two of them; Arrica Rose’s sensibility assuredly remains attuned to a variety of artistic disciplines, and Wavefunction submits strong evidence that this auteur has made the right career choices.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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