Adam Baker has done what many men have tried before. He has masterminded an epic collective that is over-the-top frantic while still driving in control. As all parts of this extravagant album explode, a central gravity keeps everything aligned. Annuals’ first full length, Be He Me is equal parts chaos and brilliance, which unite in 50 minuets of magic and harmony.
The 20-year-old bandleader, Adam Baker, performs a slew of instruments on this debut as two drum sets, a spectrum of keys and all sorts of stringed instruments, including guitar, bass, banjo, lap steel and pedal steel guitars back him. Besides Baker, each other Annual is both under 22 and a multi-instrumentalist. At times, this young set of art-school heroes aggressively approaches chaos — an assembly of rascals banging on pots and pans. Somehow, Annuals remain neatly contained and composed, always bottling chaos for good taste.
At its best, Annuals ride the thick groove of their two drummers while Baker and Company sing in harmony. On “Carry Around,” various voices yelp, laugh and holler during the verse. Synthesizers set the stage as the band reaches a climax: the band sings in unison, “I just don’t know what to do for you/ Do you care?/ I don’t know what’s best for you.” The syncopation and melody evoke the similarly eclectic Polyphonic Spree. While the Polyphonic Spree are a delight, and reach similarly epic heights, Annuals surpass the histrionics of the Spree’s fantastic frivol — singing vehement and stirring songs.
At its sweetest moments, with orchestral arrangements and harmonic intimacy, Annuals channel the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds. They never fully embrace the Beach Boys’ brand of melody; instead, Annuals keep things spunky, literally screaming on some tracks. In this way, Annuals retain force, but unfortunately succumb to the powers of countless contemporaries currently riding the overtly contrived, indie wave that has washed up from the underground and washed out onto the airwaves of mainstream radio and MTV. Even still, Annuals do not over do it. They remain original and a pleasure to listen to over and over again.
Each listen provides something new; no sound is used idly. It is easy to tell that the band is trying hard; however, it does not sound contrived. Instead, Annuals made a record that they put their hearts into. A passion that is audible from every syllable sung, down to the pluck of every string. Be He Me is simultaneously familiar and fresh — the young band has promise of more great things in the years to come. Until then, it will be hard to stop singing along.