Be He Me
must be old. Adam Baker, the leader and head of Annuals, says that “Dry Clothes,” a joyous fever-smoke hum-along snuggled just inside of Annuals’ debut Be He Me, is about his fear of the dog in The Sandlot. The fucking Sandlot. I mean, I vaguely remember a fat child with really red hair and freckles like Saturn, and a fence, maybe that great American emblem of childhood fear—The Geriatric Neighbor in the broken house. Sure, I seem to recall the commercials, but I’ve never met anybody who’s seen it, let alone had their childhood tuned to the fright of its recreational torment.
And I start to think I’ve missed something. No, not The Sandlot. Shit, I’m old enough to write that off as timing. I’m also old enough to be honest with myself and locate that thing I’ve missed: I ain’t Adam Baker. I mean, here’s Baker, a soft-faced nineteen-year-old from North Carolina, leading the six-piece Annuals through one of the year’s more intriguing indie debuts on the increasingly dynamic Ace Fu Records. The RIYL handles are easy, and I’m an obliging fellow so I’ll throw them out. With Be He Me, you’ll hear first and foremost bits of Animal Collective and Broken Social Scene, the former in the atmospheric miasma that stirs in each of these fire-bright songs and the latter in the way they build elegant, forlorn idioms out of misplaced sentiments, jumbles of scintillating soundcraft out of studio noises, wrongly-placed guitar sections, and harmonized decay.
But, ultimately, Annuals are their own assembly. You get the feeling they form tracks out of blunt shards of this, that, and what’s that you left in the car. They bring them into the light: rough boxes, muddy socks, lint, dented triangles and all, and dump them into a circle. Then they pick straws and the shortest gets the instrument closest at hand—be it melodica, pedal steel, acoustic guitar, xylophone, etc. Noise and crude jam coalesce in the studio, oddly enchanting, only memorable once it’s shared the summer-crust of eight weeks in your head, but then it clings to you.
For an album of such quiet anthems—born of distractingly blissful snippets—though, Be He Me opens with a shout of purpose. “Brother”’s dim acoustic guitar, cricket noises, and sawing strings crack into a gooseflesh drum ascent that recalls Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” Typically, a young band might give into such an obvious lead as their statement of purpose, but Annuals get it out of their system in order to subside into more artful and curious creations. “Complete or Completing” is a waltz shorelit by a Kentucky moon, slumbered and dusty amidst clip-clop noises and the band’s distant chorus, while “Carry Around” moves toward Flaming Lips’ oddities, slurring its sound with erratic electronic noises and a playful organ roll. “Ida, My” begins with dryly picked guitars before loosening its collar with rough electronic beats; “Father” initially finds Baker alone with a piano in one of the record’s most starkly pretty moments (typically, it’s more of a dizzying, cry-at-the-sun kind of pretty); “The Bull and the Goat” comes damn close to subsiding into Dave Matthews/Jack Johnson territory, but Baker and Annuals wrinkle its organ runs and slippery guitar with enough shimmering whimsy to elude the pull of ‘post-surf.’
Really though, Be He Me is an album that shouldn’t be teased apart. Annuals follow Broken Social Scene’s talent for constructing entire albums out of fractures of song and torn, forgotten harmonies stitched into tune. Baker and his collective may be out of the gates young, but they’ve begun with an album of methodical imperfection—unnaturally natural—that undeniably fits, like a plastic beer mug buried in a field that just happens to seam in choir with the dust and stone.