The insistent one-two rhythm that opens “Rose Mary Stretch” turns quickly into something of an aural illusion, as the off-kilter emphasis of the joint notes/rhythms the guitar and drum create together masks the song’s 3/4 beat as a 2/4 melody. This is a trick more common in classical music than pop music; the effect is at once arresting and unsettling, kind of making you lean forward in your seat waiting for some solid ground. We get it at 0:26, when the drum kicks in more fully and in so doing spells out the actual three-beated measures.
But the off-kilteredness remains a central part of the song. As a listener, I feel partly able to settle into the groove, and partly perched outside of it. “Rose Mary Stretch” seems at once relaxed and edgy, both musically and lyrically. Front man Xander Singh reinforces this sensation with a voice alternating between a summery breathiness and a Win Butlery vehemence. Even the band’s name speaks to this engaging dichotomy: spicy, but soft. In the end, the song’s edge manages to merge with its groove, much the way the off-center rhythm gives the melody a cumulative swing that’s both attractive and powerful.
Pepper Rabbit is a duo based in LA but born in NOLA, a fact betrayed, to New Orleans natives, by the title of the new album, Red Velvet Snow Ball, which refers to a favorite flavor of the local frozen treat of choice, the snow ball. (The unconverted need only one trip to Hansen’s to see the light.) The band’s vaguely carnivalesque ambiance springs from the fact that Singh not only sings but plays a wide variety of instruments, including ukulele, clarinet, horns, and an assortment of analog synthesizers. (Partner Luc Larent oversees the rhythm section.)