If there’s a unifying quality to indie music of the last decade, it’s youthfulness. Sufjan Stevens, The Arcade Fire, Animal Collective and Broken Social Scene, all artists whose childhoods have come and gone some time ago, seem to return to a youthful innocence and a playful and vibrant energy, cramming songs with as much nostalgia as naive excitement. Not that a band like Animal Collective is necessarily playing childlike music, per se, but there’s a twinkle in the eye, a feeling of being carefree, and a compulsion to tumble in the grass, even when the lyrics yield more weighty subjects. Given that Raleigh, North Carolina’s Annuals has been compared to all of these bands, it comes as no surprise that this sextet exudes youth. More importantly, they’re significantly younger than the artists to whom they’re compared, which certainly helps.
Annuals is one of few bands for which youth actually seems to be a blessing more than a curse. While the benefit of time can only make this band better, their bright-eyed debut Be He Me is an awe-inspiring collection of magical, deceptively simple, cosmic psychedelic folk-pop. If that seems like too many descriptors, then a closer listen to this band is in order. While their attention span is only marginally short, one idea never wears out its welcome and always transitions toward another before long.
The band previewed this album some three or so months ago on their MySpace page with the track “Brother,” a song that opens serenely with crickets and acoustic guitar, a sort of awakening to the album’s spirit. But once that spirit is up, look out—in come the crashing drums, concrete distortion riffs, descending tufts of violin, and frontman Adam Baker’s graduated emo screams. Though they’re still the restless screams of a teenager (not for much longer, he’s 19), they seem to possess a power beyond his years.
No song on the album wields quite as destructive a force as “Brother,” though that’s not to say that no other song is as good, they just compel with their subtler charms, rather than God of Thunder riffs and angst-y screeches. By comparison, “Dry Clothes” is a bouncy, peppy pop song with baroque flourishes. “Complete or Completing” is almost Pet Sounds like with orch-pop opulence, and clippity-clopping percussion. “Carry Around” mentions pill-popping and some rambling intro about crying out one’s ass (or so it would sound), while the musical arrangement is one of an almost tropical nature, attempting and succeeding with something that Canadian contemporaries Islands similarly tried earlier this year, though with less impressive results.
When Annuals are at their most focused, as on “Bleary Eyed,” they can create a perfect joy of a pop song that easily stands up to those more well known bands to whom they’ve already been compared. Though the second half of the album slows down and begins to de-energize after such a mighty and vigorous beginning, Be He Me does come to a strong close with the two final tracks, “Father,” a pretty, psychedelic ballad with plenty of strange vocal effects, and the jazzy ambience of “Sway,” which puts this leaping satyr to bed in quite the opposite fashion to how it arose. Yet it builds into layers of vocals and percussion, not to mention trippy effects, making for a detailed sonic treat. And really, the whole album is just that. Every note leads to varied puzzle pieces of intricate sound. There may be some innocence on this record, perhaps a little naiveté, but Annuals make an impressive show of their first outing. Youth is only wasted on the young if they squander it.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.