Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Rosali Bite Down


Here’s a folk-rock album that actually rocks, folks.

There’s so much to like about Bite Down, Rosali Middleman’s first LP for her new North Carolina neighbors at Merge Records after a move from Philadelphia. Middleman writes with a straightforward artful touch, turning relatable sensations into simple, memorable refrains. She wields her muscular, expressive alto with expertise, fluttering softly in moments of repose and powerfully bellowing when her band kicks it up a notch. As both a singer and a songwriter, she excels. But her smartest creative decision here might have been recruiting a crack backing band to bring the most out of her material, the same way certain Neil Young or Bob Dylan albums became transcendent with the right supporting cast.

As on 2021’s No Medium, that band centers on Omaha bar-rock heroes David Nance & Mowed Sound, with Nance on bass, Kevin Donahue on drums, and Middleman’s co-producer James Schroeder on guitar. This time, Destroyer keyboardist Ted Bois joins them too, lending some of the magic he’s shared with Dan Bejar over the years. Bejar, by the way, is such a big Rosali fan that he wrote the new album’s official bio, noting that the rugged alchemy coursing through these recordings is impossible to miss. “Maybe Fairport did this, maybe VU,” he writes. “It’s a strange telepathic brew.”

This is one of those albums where every track feels like a highlight. Some songs move with an easy grace, like opener “On Tonight,” on which Middleman sighs about an entrancing, slightly unsettling attraction over Nance’s bouncing bass groove. She recounts similar sensations on “Hopeless,” sounding like Natalie Merchant beamed into a ’70s Stones record. “Oh your sweet spirit/ Got me out of my head,” she sings. “Let it burn into your skull/ There’s so much love for you.” Softer, sadder material glides just as smoothly. On “Bite Down,” Bois’ soulful keyboard chords and bursts of cello from Megan Siebe help Middleman evoke the literal and emotional fog as she walks the shoreline, reflecting on the kind of breakup that makes you want to end it all: “I keep on walking/ Putting rocks in my pocket/ I’m drawn to the docks and/ Eternal life.” All throughout the record, she explores the contours of love’s ends and beginnings, making sense of her place in this world along the way. It’s never revolutionary, but it always feels profound.

At times, Schroeder’s guitar slides into the spotlight, slipshod and raw but with patience and a lightness of touch. On the gorgeous ballad “Hills On Fire,” he’s like Stephen Malkmus auditioning for Galaxie 500 while trying not to wake a baby, playing an extremely overdriven instrument as gently as possible. You can hear every detail and texture in the peels of feedback between Middleman’s tender refrains, “Hills on fire, and still we climb/ Lift my skirts, cover your eyes/ Bitter sweat, yours and mine.” Lead guitar comes to the fore again on the anxiously chugging pop tune “Slow Pain,” where Schroeder’s strings bend and wail as if splitting the difference between the Pixies and Yo La Tengo. Yet despite all the classic indie rock in his inspired noodling, his callbacks to the canonized and the quirky, Middleman imbues her songs with a crackling presence that does not allow Bite Down to turn into a nostalgic exercise. Like Cassandra Jenkins or Jenn Wasner, she carries herself with an uncommon gravity even when cutting loose; you can hear all the deep thought and feeling under even the simplest turns of phrase.

The result is one of the most stirring albums of this young year. When things get loud, as on the magnificent “My Kind,” the bashed-out three-chord sequence feels like it could carry on into infinity without losing an ounce of potency, even as Middleman laments the definitive endpoint of a romance: “You were my kind/ I don’t want to live without you/ How am I gonna live without you?” When the band quiets down on closer “May It Be An Offer,” the effect is just as magnetic. I’m guessing that one — with its flickering guitars and barely-there percussion and a vocal melody that could pass for a timeless folk traditional — is the one that inspired Bejar’s reference to the Velvet Underground and Fairport Convention. “Full-eyed admission/ Dreams and ambition,” Middleman sings. “I’m in the kitchen/ Making offerings for life.” It’s presented like a snapshot of a holy moment, and if you value music enough to treasure when an artist sticks the landing on a brilliant LP, that’s exactly what it is.

Bite Down is out 3/22 on Merge.

Other notable albums out this week:
• Waxahatchee’s Tigers Blood
• Adrianne Lenker’s Bright Future
• Future & Metro Boomin’s We Don’t Trust You
• Rosie Tucker’s ‘UTOPIA NOW!’
• Tyla’s Tyla
• Jlin’s Akoma
• Julia Holter’s Something In The Room She Moves
• Khruangbin’s A La Sala
• Francis Of Delirium’s Lighthouse
• The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Glasgow Eyes
• Spaced’s This Is All We Ever Get
• Barely Civil’s I’d Say I’m Not Fine
• Empress Of’s For Your Consideration
• Gossip’s REAL POWER
• Cakes da Killa’s Black Sheep
• Alena Spanger’s Fire Escape
• Restorations’ Restorations
• The Staves’ All Now
• Cassie Kinoshi’s seed.’s gratitude
• Prefuse 73’s New Strategies For Modern Crime Vol. 1
• Sam Evian’s Plunge
• Marbled Eye’s Read The Air
• Klaus Johann Grobe’s io tu il loro
• Zombi’s Direct Inject
• Good Morning’s Seven
• Shakira’s Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran
• Sierra Ferrell’s Trail Of Flowers
• Magic Tuber Stringband’s Needlefall
• Boris & Coaltar Of The Deepers’ Hello There
• VR SEX’s Hard Copy
• SiR’s Heavy
• Gary Clark Jr.’s JPEG RAW
• Starsailor’s Where The Wild Things Grow
• Halo Maud’s Celebrate
• villagerrr’s Tear Your Heart Out
• Matt Champion’s Mika’s Laundry
• Carpool’s My Life In Subtitles
• She-Nut’s Demarcation
• Gibson & Toutant’s On The Green
• Cody Jinks’ Change The Game
• Odetta Hartman’s Swansongs
• Kita Alexander’s Young In Love
• ZADA’s Water In The Desert
• Tatyana’s It’s Over
• Charlie Parr’s Little Sun
• The Veronicas’ Gothic Summer
• Operator Music Band’s Four Singles
• Saint Saviour’s Sunseeker
• AKTHESAVIOR & sagun’s u r not alone
• The Wandering Hearts’ Mother
• Fears’ affinity
• Sam Morrow’s On The Ride Here
• Salt Cathedral’s Before It’s Gone
• Pan American & Kramer’s Reverberations of Non-Stop Traffic On Redding Road
• Fletcher’s In Search Of The Antidote
• RED ON’s Phantom Easy
• Timo Andres’ The Blind Banister
• Fears’ affinity
• Bendigo Fletcher’s Two Things At Once
• Civerous’ Maze Envy
• The Wandering Hearts’ Mother
• Mastiff’s Deprecipice
• Logic1000’s Mother
• 1010benja’s Ten Total
• Anysia Kym’s Truest
• Velcros’ Strange News From The Vault
• Morgan Harper-Jones’ Up To The Glass
• Alice Coltrane’s The Carnegie Hall Concert
• The Cure’s Paris (30th Anniversary Deluxe)
• Wye Oak’s Shriek: Variations EP
• Nourished By Time’s Catching Chickens EP
• Kaleah Lee’s Birdwatcher EP
• APPARITION’s Disgraced Emanations From A Tranquil State EP
• Brothers Osborne’s Break Mine EP
• Shalom’s Sativa EP
• Glass Beams’ Mahal EP
• King Isis’ shed EP
• Only Fire’s Moana Lisa EP
• PEGGY’s Dear Reader EP
• Hozier’s Unheard EP
• Great Good Fine Ok’s EXIST EP
• Wormwitch and Sadistic Ritual’s split EP

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