Low-key isn’t a term often used to describe rock and roll. But every once and a while there comes a band that can bark without the bombast, emote without Emo, and grip without grandeur. One such band is The Annuals, a six-piece jazzy rock band from North Carolina. With an unassuming, diamond-cut devotion to their craft, this odd little band is a fresh breath of air among the stink of artists simply waiting in the fame line.
The Annuals are heavily influenced by The Flaming Lips, and it shows. Songs ripple with stomach-grumbling synth and pinball hall sound effects, building to swelling highs and dipping to brooding lows. Like The Lips, The Annuals approach their work with definite tact rather than simply peppering songs with candy technology for the hell of it. Every string, garbled electronica line, and shimmering harmony constructs The Annuals’ signature sound while punching a big fucking crater all the while.
Be He Me is an album of images. Melodies rise and fall like gaudy horses on a carousel in a lonely, brightly-lit circus world. “Complete, or Completing” sways over stomping piano keys as vocalist Adam Baker hums and roars like a carny barker. Be He Me boasts a menagerie of dreamy sounds in a world that simultaneously stings with reality and blurs with lighthearted psychedelia. The Annuals play ditties and anthems, the latter of which never stumble into arena-rock confines. Emotive exposés like “Fair” don’t wear feelings on a sleeve, but rather scream from within viscous prisons. By the time vocal testaments tear free, we are already aching to the bone. That is emotion.
“Carry Around” is a perfect example of the sweet, bopping dance music that The Flaming Lips broke forth so effectively and The Annuals sink their teeth into. Old school video game midi bubbles to the surface of the song about uncertainty, pills, and tickling arms. “Bleary-Eyed” is the cream of the crop. A joyful mix of acoustic guitar, airy vocals, and a perfect synthesizer line constitute a tight pop song. Throw in a warbling slide guitar solo and you’ve got an irresistible ride through an orgasmic flailing dance of sound. You can nearly taste the ascending harmonics through this gem.
Subtle, sanguine, and sultry, Be He Me stands as one of the most enjoyable albums of 2006. The Annuals continue to make the world safe for Indie boys and girls to dance in head-lolling trances like giddy children. Amen to that.
– Matt Wendus