Release Date: Oct 7, 2008
Record label: Canvasback
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Entry from Paste’s Guide to Music, 2050 edition. . .
There’s plenty to like about this North Carolina six-piece — pretty piano melodies; impeccably layered instrumentation; singer Adam Baker’s gentle, expressive vocals — but, unfortunately, not a ton to love. Annuals seem to pull so heavily from the Indie Rock 101 syllabus (see: the Shins, Arcade Fire) that their own identity gets lost in a wash of perfectly capable songcraft. While it has several nice moments of sprawling countryfolk fervor, a more accurate title for Such Fun might have been Not Bad.
The majestic mountain range and the happy trees that surround it on the cover of the Annuals' second album, Such Fun, are the work of the late Bob Ross, the big-haired landscape painter whose art instruction series was a PBS staple for decades. The choice is fitting, because just as Ross could summon an evocative image of the great outdoors with a few well-placed brush strokes, the six members of the Annuals have created a widescreen indie pop spectacle that sounds big as all outdoors despite the rather conventional size and scope of the band. Annuals leader Adam Baker wrote, arranged, and co-produced Such Fun along with handling guitars, keyboards, percussion, and lead vocals, and you sure can't say the guy lacks vision -- from the laid-back semi-ska of "Hardwood Floor," the shred-tastic guitar heroics of "Hot Night Hounds," and the crunchy '70s-style rock of "Talking" to the psychedelic drift of "Hair Don't Grow," the country-accented melody of "Always Do," and the massed choral splendor of "Springtime," Baker never passes up an opportunity to pull something new out of his bag of tricks, and his bandmates invariably rise to the challenge, especially Kenny Florence on guitar and pedal steel and drummer Nick Radford.
On the back of their debut single, “Brother,” Annuals quickly became the indie cognoscenti’s taste du jour in 2006, pegged to be the next big thing on circular plastic. Then the rest of Annuals’ music got in the way: the North Carolina band’s scattershot, Americana-leaning prog-rock sensibilities were good when the song went somewhere, but the rest of the group’s debut, Be He Me, was an inconsistent mess. Despite a hefty case of blog-lash that hit around the time Annuals hit SXSW in 2007, Annuals parlayed short-lived blog success into a contract with Columbia subsidiary Canvasback.
Like contemporaries Yeasayer and Gang Gang Dance, Annuals suffer from ADD. The North Carolina-based sextet takes a patchwork approach to indie rock, warping snippets of stadium guitar, syncopated beats, and ornate string arrangements through a jaded pop prism, all with varying degrees of success. While the band clearly hasn't lost a wink of the spastic, youthful exuberance that epitomized its 2006 debut, Be He Me, the genre hopscotch on Such Fun feels more calculated, at times recalling a hybrid of Islands' off-kilter prog and Morning View-era Incubus, particularly opener "Confessor.