Annuals’ debut is an ambitious amalgamation of emerging talents and trends. The fragile bombast of Arcade Fire, the layered extravagance of Broken Social Scene, and the frenetic folk channeling of Animal Collective are all here along with spots and splashes of assorted other blogged up and fawned over artists. With those apparent influences pulled together it’s hard not to cry foul or at least level suspicious criticism. Be He Me is either the natural creative output of an attentive listener indulging in contemporary sounds or a much more crass attempt at capitalizing on the latest tastes and affinities.
Annuals flit along through Be He Me making a case for both possibilities. Album opener “Brother” hits upon every reference point in just under four minutes. There’s Animal Collective’s blatant naturalism, Arcade Fire’s slow burn of timidity and anxiety, and the explosiveness of Broken Social Scene. That these influences are so readily identifiable proves detrimental to the impact and identity of Annuals themselves. Where they fail is in scrambling and recombining these elements into something new or unexpected. Instead what remains are readily distinguishable remnants of other artists.
That failure doesn’t make the album entirely unenjoyable. They’ve honed their imitations well and listeners looking for more of the same will be rewarded. Annuals also reach farther back on occasion as with the Pet Sounds stomp and breakdown of “Complete, or Completing”.
If further fault is to be found with Annuals it is in their unpalatably suburban aesthetic. May be it’s their reduction of already gentrified sounds, but something about Annuals always sounds entirely too safe. Gratuitous grasps at profanity and affected yelping only enforce the feeling that these songs are more a matter of sheltered leisure than artistic drive.
Ultimately Annuals are a band with all the right influences but not enough inspiration. Their take on progressive and invigorating sounds comes across somewhat stale and rehearsed. They never appear anything less than earnest yet somehow that earnestness itself seems contrived.
Still it takes talent to so deftly draw on this many influences. Be He Me is ambitious in scope if albeit disappointing in execution. Lead Annual Adam Baker clearly has a good ear for trends and a keen sense of history. This is obviously a guy with an incredibly broad record collection or one very thick hard drive. The next step is setting himself loose from his influences and shaking himself up into creating something as captivatingly volatile as his heroes.