Annuals - Be He Me (Cover Artwork)


Be He Me (2006)

Ace Fu

If I were to describe Be He Me in one word, it would be 'cluttered.' Not a messy, confused, disorienting, or unorganized sort of clutter, however. More like the detailed sets of a Wes Anderson movie where knick-knacks, archaic gadgets, art and the set itself combine to form an aesthetically pleasing and intriguing pastiche. Annuals manage the some feat via music by not just layering sounds and ideas, but by interjecting, twisting, flashing, and exploding them. Be He Me is the sort of experimental pop album where the experiments are never gaudy, ridiculous, or self-indulgent messes simply created to garner the band an "experimental" tag.

"Brother" starts the album with field noises stolen from a summer night. Crickets, cicadas, and other tiny rumblings lead into the sort of soft acoustic-and-strings mix you might find on an Iron & Wine album. Some sci-fi swirls and swells slowly bleed onto the track and then BAM! -- you're in the middle of a fuzzy, pounding rocker complete with some shouted vocals, distorted guitars, and subtle noisy utterances. Oh, and did I mention the whole thing is delivered with an expert knowledge of pop dynamics and melody? 'Cause it is.

Throughout the album you'll find the same stuffed-to-the-brim, but still smiling take on songwriting. "Dry Clothes" spices up a meeting of Rouge Wave and the Flaming Lips by tossing in small bits of aggression and a dash of tribal-chant turned anthem-cry. "Carry Around" on the other hand hits hard thanks to a cranked hip-hop beat and some sampled rants, which are balanced by a number of key lines, sputtering electronics, and harmonizing vocals, while "Ida, My" finds even more unexplored territory. After starting as a lone bedroom ballad it progresses into trippy electro-folk and then an all-out show-closing celebration of clattering drums, amplified vocals, pop guitar riffs and digital flourishes.

Bands like Architecture in Helsinki, Fiery Furnaces, and I'm From Barcelona have all created the sort of free-roaming, never-enough ingredients pop of Annuals, but what seems to separate the band from those other three is their ability to keep everything so compact and taut despite its complexities. Yes, Be He Me sounds cluttered, but the sort of clutter that can be contained to a single room. It never sounds like it would take a small army to play, like it owes its song structures to prog-rock, or like it could be part of some children's music festival. It's just experimental pop that likes to fill its parameters with a number of items rather break them wide open.