When North Carolina-based indie rock sextet Annuals released their debut album Be He Me, they arrived a bit before hitting peak ripeness, but still offered the promise of ultimately maturing into a fine pop band. The talent was certainly there, and Be He Me even contained a few stellar tracks, notably the epic opener “Brother.” Still, with most of the band still under legal drinking age at the time of its release, room for growth was inevitable. Nearly two years to the day after the release of that promising debut, Annuals unleash major label debut Such Fun, a polished, bright and shiny new display for their dramatic, progressive pop. And though there’s still a similar element of freshness and development, the band has given a go at spreading its wings a bit further, attempting to soar as high as the Bob Ross peaks on the album’s cover.
Such Fun is, in many ways, quite similar to Be He Me, primarily in that they’re both largely defined by their ambition. This outing is, perhaps, even more far-reaching in its approach, which is admirable, though lack of ambition was never a problem for Annuals. In just two songs, the group leaps from a polished Gossip Girl worthy tune in “Confessor” to a majestic prog-rock opus in “Hot Night Hounds.” Both are perfectly enjoyable songs, and quite good ones at that, though their tendency toward over-indulgence leads the listener to crave brevity. “Down the Mountain” finds the band plunging into cowpunk, which is certainly fun, but seemingly at odds with the emo synthesizers and auto-tuned vocals.
Nonetheless, when the kitchen sink is the only thing that doesn’t apply, surprises are bound to emerge around every corner, such as country ballad “Always Do” and crunchy rocker “Talking,” two songs which seem to belong on two entirely different albums. Ah, but such is the nature of Annuals, ever ones to defy the expectations of genre. It would be more charming if the band were able to perfect one of these myriad stylistic approaches (“Hot Night Hounds” comes closest), but even when the band settles into a solid groove, there’s almost always a sonic distraction of some sort lurking just ahead. And, likely, more auto-tune.
As fun as it is to hear how broad Annuals is capable of swinging their sonic pendulum, they’re desperately in need of some discipline. A little experimentation is fine now and then, but Annuals can’t quite seem to decide whether they’re prog-rock, emo, power-pop, country or teen make-out balladeers. Given a bit more time and a clearer vision, they could very well hammer out something really interesting. Just turn that damn auto-tune off already.
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.