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. With the new digs came the ability to hire a star producer (Jacquire King, known for his work on Tom Waits and (ouch) Kings of Leon’s latest oeuvres), the licensing of a Bob Ross painting for the album cover, and the inevitable expanding of the band’s sonic palette for ther tepid Such Fun album.
Such Fun is essentially Be He Me but with nicer sounding instrumentation and less frayed edges. In some cases, this is a positive: Lead single “Confessor” is a tightly wound, punchy track that the band would have killed with too much jamming in the past. “Confessor” is still all over the place — frontman Adam Baker can’t decide on whether or not shouting is the best course of action for the vocals — but the instrumentation stays relatively grounded in a non-committed way (it never truly commits to a musical style).
But elsewhere, the sloppiness that led to some of the brighter tracks on Be He Me (like “Carry Around,” for instance) is nowhere to be found. By and large, Such Fun trades genre experimentation for a blurry and ineffective mix of alt-country and Americana tropes that’s sometimes messy and mostly dull.
“Springtime” rides a cheesy piano line for much of its duration, and it seems to exist only to give the song the heft it never achieves. “Hardwood Floor” uses alt-country tools (acoustic guitars, a drawl) to further a line that sounds written by the Fall Out Boy chaps (“How’d you let me get so down?/ Like I deserved,” Baker intones over and over on the track). “Talking” is the closest band gets to the epic realm that “Brother” resided in, but its power-chord blaring take-offs never deliver the catharsis you wait for over the track’s three minutes. The album’s closing triad sets the album off in the most inoffensive manner: one Coldplay filtered through Sky Blue Sky Wilco torch song (“The Tape”), one slick ballad with lots of strings (“Blue Ridge”), and one DeVotchka-lite track (“Wake”).
Annuals are the wunderkind versions of what happens when the hype of a band far outpaces the reality of the band’s chops and songwriting talent — they were all 20 and younger when Be He Me exploded. You could get all teary-eyed playing the “What If” game with Annuals career arc: What if they had more time to figure shit out in North Carolina? What if they hadn’t caught so much hype that they suffered a backlash? What if they had more time to record their debut?
But Such Fun is the type of record Annuals were always going to make: a slick opus, epic both in sound and messiness, that just never comes together. These guys were never going to replace Broken Social Scene, Animal Collective or the Arcade Fire. They were just a moderately worthy distraction two years ago.