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Annuals – Such Fun

Red Ink Records, 2008

I’m going to be honest here.  I recently took another look at this album cover and immediately thought it’d be a nice aside to remind readers that Bob Ross used to be the man when it came to painting pretty little trees.  If you don’t know who Bob Ross is, he’s the fuzzy-haired artist who used to paint amazing landscapes on a thirty or sixty (I forget) minute show on PBS.  His voice was quite relaxing as were his paintings.  Well anyway, I decide to search for information on him and LO AND BEHOLD!  This is a Bob Ross painting!  See, I may not be able to tell a Rembrandt from a Monet (yes, I’m embarrassed) but I know my Bob Ross.  The pretty little trees gave it away.  Granted, when I picked this album up I didn’t know Ross had anything to do with it, but I do like mountains and landscapes so it was an easy buy for me.

Annuals are a group from North Carolina who have actually been subject to some positive press back when this record came out.  Did I mention that I was cutting edge when it comes to buzz bands?  Okay, okay, three years late cutting edge, but listen, I’m all about post-buzz anyway.  Instead of buying into all that hype and expectation, I prefer to take the bar and drop it all the way down below the ‘perceived quality’ level.  There’s only one place left to go in my bottom-dwelling, post-buzz location of critique, right?

Early on in the record one thinks that Annuals is trying to utterly represent the Ross painting by playing serene pop music.  “Confessor” has a gentle guitar concoction over the verses while strings permeate the background.  Adam Baker’s vocals vary between warm understanding and high-pitched emotion.  It’s a song that the Gin Blossoms could have written if they were starting out in 2008.  “Springtime” slows the minimal momentum with some solo piano, only to build (of course!  Why didn’t I see it coming?) to a height with Baker doing his high-pitched emotional singing again.  Then there’s the “dah dah dahs” during the bridge.  Yeah, this is indie pop all the way.

Oddly enough, Annuals were starting to get a little sick of their own sound as I was by the time “Down the Mountain” arrives.  It’s very quick, a little unpredictable, and certainly louder.  There’s also some silly violin doodling during the breaks.  Er, what happened to Annuals?  At least the song breaks up the usual pop, which only returns in “Always Do”.  That song will make any sensitive child or adult want to hug themselves.  Yeesh.

The rest of the record keeps surprising the listener, for Annuals are clearly not interested in maintaining any sort of impression one got from early on in the record.  “Talking” speeds things up all over again, making it a very energizing pop rocker that sounds excellent during the chorus with explosive horns and guitar work.  Then, like a rug, your ears fall over themselves as “Hardwood Floor” utterly mellows out to cheeseball soft rock like some of those sketchy Death Cab For Cutie numbers.  This sound tends to win out for the rest of the album, as “The Tape” and “Blue Ridge” are equally as saccharine.

Thankfully, Annuals end on a good, stirring note with “Wake”.  The song showcases all of the elements that one has heard throughout the record without dwelling on one particular sound.  There’s the emotional vocals, the sweeping strings, the hard-edged guitar, and the general sense that one has just listened to a pop record.  It is a fine conclusion at nearly five minutes in length, giving the listener a real positive send off into silence and contemplation about what the heck Annuals are trying to do.

Go to Annuals’ MySpace page to hear some newer stuff of theirs, or try to dig up some of their older music at Last.fm.

I like Annuals, but I also don’t like Annuals.  I appreciate the band in that they are not hung up on sticking to a formula for too long, which made “Such Fun” an intriguing record to listen to.  One can dislike one song but might find something more interesting to listen to on the next one, keeping the Annuals out of a ‘hate one, hate all’ predicament that many bands usually have to deal with.  What I don’t like about Annuals is that some of their pop tunes are just much too overindulgent in heartstring-tugging.  I took a small jab at Death Cab for Cutie earlier, but from what I’ve heard of them they at least don’t try to pour on the sentiment in such large doses as Annuals tend to do.  Unless they’re going for the sensitivity vote from fans, I feel Annuals should try to reduce a little of the shmaltz and pick up a few more catchy hooks.

Then again, some people like that shmaltzy stuff, so that aspect of Annuals combined with their periodic rock outs may be one’s sort of thing.  The group continues to put out records and tour, so if you’re one to seek out a band that mixes up their tempos like they do one’s emotions, then go see what they’re up to.

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