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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Annuals
Be He Me
Ace Fu

Rating: 6.5/10 ?


December 20, 2006
Hailing from Raleigh NC, Annuals have had a good run this year as blog and zine darlings, and this begs the question: Is the ever-growing web of musical scrutiny doing its job? The upside of the existing scheme is that an artist can catch fire quickly, whereas in past eras it could take years of touring and exposure to achieve critical mass. The downside is that the sphere is always looking for the next-big-thing and this can occasionally lead to the viral spread of self-fulfilled hype without sufficient backup. Annuals reveal both sides of this paradigm.

The debut record by Adam Baker and his band, Be He Me, is nothing if not ambitious. It tackles large themes of loss, pain and family. The band is big, the production is slick and the resulting sound would please Phil Spector. Baker, who is 20, writes good songs from the heart, and sings them like he means it. The stumbling block is that ambition can sometimes trip up an otherwise organic flow. There is a fine line between forcing an objective through, as opposed to letting aspiration freely blossom into whatever end it reaches. The first sounds of the album suggest that the listener is in for a generous dose of bohemia. On opener "Brother" instead of say, instruments, we are treated to the soft chirping of crickets and toads. Understood, the song references hiking, animals and creeks, but the use of sound effects adds a superfluous level of new-ageness that tips the track in the wrong direction. Baker already travels heavily in nature-as-metaphor lyricism; an indicative example from "Dry Clothes", "There's a knapsack rally/ for the stranger who told of a spider/ and a purple toad." This type of imagery, cover art included, pervades the album and naturalist noises aren't required but show up throughout.

Baker is better when he keeps the far-flung poetry to a minimum and focuses on more personal prose. Fortunately about halfway through the record that's exactly what happens. There is a noticeable change in dynamics with "Bleary-Eyed" which puts the focus squarely on the musicianship of the band and the endearing vocal delivery of Baker, which evokes Okkervil River's Will Sheff. "Fair" follows the flow, and is one of several standout tracks, leaving the critters behind for heartfelt lines like "The pain in her stare/ Is making me wish/ I was there/ With something to declare." "The Bull, and the Goat" is a funk-laden diddy, an imagined conversation about weathering though life. It is on songs like "Mama" where Annuals really show their true potential: a simple gorgeous melody, acoustic accompaniment, a fiddle, and some great backing vocals.

Annuals are also known for their live shows where they play like a collective, complete with swapping instruments, and even some costume wearing. I saw them recently, and concluded that like on record, the performance was somewhat affected. Yet this reputation, along with the indie-certified vibe of Be He Me has drawn comparisons to such heavyweights as Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. And this is exactly where the blogs and zines fall into wishful thinking mode. Sure, we all want bands to come up out of nowhere and blow us away, but such events are rare, and just because our computers are instant-buzz machines doesn't change that. What the model does allow is for less to fall through the cracks, and Annuals' debut album is a great example of that failsafe. It is definitely worth taking note of; rest assured - the system is working.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro

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