I had intended to avoid Annuals entirely during what I assumed was bound to be their awkward indie rock adolescence, but whoops, occasionally one of those little brats will turn out to be a precocious wunderkind. Let’s start with Adam Baker: He’s as competent a frontman as I’ve ever seen for his age, especially considering that he’s tethered down by guitars and a keyboard. His delivery is part yelp and part emo-whine, but the most impressive part is that he was able to write pop songs that expertly glue the six-piece ensemble together even when there are four dudes playing drums.
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Hailing from Brooklyn gave this four-piece a CMJ home-field advantage. Unfortunately they never really took advantage of it, except for one obnoxious girl in the front row who shrieked for every song. Playing heavily guitar driven rock with harmonies that would gradually shift in and out of focus, the lead singer dwelled on falsetto-driven vocals that seemed to contradict his taste for distortion penetrating guitar solos. The second guitarist mostly focused on turning his reverb way up and engineering really slow notes that would dispel into layers of granular background noise. The latter he achieved by spending a decent amount of time hunched over on his knees and fiddling with an assortment of knobs. The group’s frontman was the only member who seemed to process any sort of emotion or expression, the others just listlessly thrumming along in perfect rhythm. This made it difficult to respond in any positive way to their innocuous and placid sound. That is, unless you were already a groupie.
Power chords akin to Whitesnake and monotonic pointillistic bass lines that evoked the Strokes were this London quartet’s calling card. Added on were anguished and self-involved lyrics that sometimes became morbid or drab and resentful. Singing in what began as a grumbled, mumbled, voice, the lead singer took on a more euphonious tone as the set progressed and he honed in his vocals around the intended notes. Heavy synthesizers permeated all their songs, either sounding like icicles and serving as decorative accents or calming amorphous swaths of light and adding background. Singing usually took precedence for the lead singer, letting his guitar hang loosely during verses and only picking it up to play final garnishes. When he did dig in to it, he pulled heavy on his whammy bar, letting his guitar snarl before singing. But more often than not it was the relentless beating bass line that covered any cantabile cadence.
Playing dreary treble soaked guitar rock, Violens’ sound drew heavily from the Smiths and Morissey. The lead singer’s mumbled, somber melodies were distant and detached, as if singing the songs recreated whatever melancholy motives went into writing them. Super-synthesized keys backed up the heavier guitar sounds, usually in wishy-washy smothering chords. Though the songs were consistently minor-toned, the bass player’s melodic lines hinted at reconciling whatever had got them down to begin with. More interesting rhythms populated most of their songs too, giving you a sense that they were trying to expand the indie rock sound rather than just master it.
Most of the artists involved in the Panache Showcase, which took over the Knitting Factory on Friday night, tended to emphasize style over substance (see: An Albatross). But in this respect, Los Angeles foursome The Mae Shi represented the exception to the rule—they turn style into substance. The Mae Shi are a gigantic ball of energy and enthusiasm, marrying No Age-like showmanship and intensity to their anthemic spazz-punk musical catalogue. Though they supplemented their set with a few props, such as performing part of the show beneath a gigantic rainbow parachute that they unfurled over the crowd, it never seemed like a plea for attention and it worked well with the Day-Glo madness the group personifies. Floating on a sea of major key guitar melodies, a packed house easily bought into The Mae Shi’s half-inaudible speed punk, half drunken sing-along. The foursome brought everyone along for a 45-minute ride, and by the end, few seemed eager to get off the bus—myself included.
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