Us keyboard jockeys and self aggrandizing Internet music analysts are obsessed with genres (even though we often spend a great deal of time telling everyone that they’re meaningless). We are profoundly hung up on phrases like, “for fans of_________,” or “recommended if you like ____________.” We probably do this for two reasons: 1) comparison to other bands is a really easy way to launch discussion of a band’s sound (after all, musical communities and collective influences create undeniable similarities and differences in sound that allow easy – if somewhat blurry-edged – groupings to be made). 2) We like to fill in those blanks with obscure bands to bolster our own scene credentials and make ourselves look much smarter than we actually are…or maybe that’s just me? It’s probably just me. Anyway, I was thinking about all of the rock/emo/post-anything/punk tags that get thrown around so frequently these days, and it strikes me that things have become overly complicated. Or at the very least, that we writers have decided that slashes are badass, and we must incorporate them as often as we possibly can/. This thought seems to be vindicated by the surplus of bands that try to eschew these tags so wantonly bestowed upon them by writers like myself. Didn’t there used to be a term for bands that encompassed off kilter songwriting that fell outside of the wheelhouses of the radio-adoring masses, but still rocked? It’s been a while since the ’90s, but wasn’t that what “alternative” was? In my mind, we need to get back to this. The term alternative doesn’t pigeon hole bands – it simply states, “yeah it’s got elements of rock, but it’s got so much more. It thinks outside of the radio hit paradigm.”
That brings us to Annabel out of Kent, OH and their phenomenal release, Youth In Youth, out on Count Your Lucky Stars Records. It is quite possibly one of the best
rock/emo/indie/angular/post-everything alternative rock releases of the year. We here at Type In Stereo get a lot of music sent to us to review – some is good, some is bad, some is just outside of our musical realm – but it always gets sent with a press release chock-full of praise. The one that accompanied Annabel’s sophomore record said something to the tune of ,”Hope you don’t have your end of the year lists ready yet, because you may need to make some room for this one.” I must admit, I rolled my eyes a bit, but within mere moments of starting the album up, I knew that it was true. And I did, in fact, have to rearrange my Top Ten of 2012 list to make room for Youth In Youth at #7 (a number that could very well have been higher if I had been able to spend some real time with it).
The first thing you’ll notice is that the vocals sound a little different than on most releases. The second thing you will notice is that this is a good thing. I am not entirely sure what it is that Annabel has done to make this unique sound, but I am willing to hazard a guess that they have doubled the vocals on the recording. There is harmonizing as well, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Ben Hendricks seems to frequently sing the same vocal line in a mirror image of itself, giving the vocals an ethereal quality that works, and works really well. I guess the effect is similar to playing the same note on a guitar but on two different strings – they are the same, but just dissimilar enough to give it that roomy quality of sound.
Though remarkable, the vocal quality is not the only notable achievement on Youth In Youth. In fact, album opener, ‘Young Americans,’ does a fantastic job of showing off what Annabel is capable of. That song (along with many others) has an upbeat marching quality to it. Strong and steady drumming keeps the song charging ahead while bouncy guitar lines weave back and forth across each other, creating a toe-tapping song that forces you to break out into fits of goofy smiling. Furthermore, the bass frequently breaks out of the confinements of “the rhythm section,” shining on its own, adding an additional layer to already layered music. It’s an impressive track, to say the least.
The opener then segues into ‘The Age of Possibilities,’ which features another risky abnormality that becomes a trademark for the album – frantic drumming. With the inherent beauty of the guitars, bass, and vocals, it would seem easy to compliment them with a lo-fi and laid back drum beat, but no, Andy Hendricks attacks his kit with the ferocity of a honey badger that despises all other honey badgers for being too caring. And once again, it pays off. Songs like ‘You Could Be Living Better’ thrive because of, rather than in spite of, this unique feature.
With ‘Home,’ Annabel show that they are not all ethereal vocals and honey badger drumming – they can slow things down and let a song float on by. As good as ‘Home’ is, this ability is used to the greatest effect on my favorite track on the album: the closer, ‘Our Days Were Numbered.’ The track has the guitars repeating simple lines as they slowly add in layer after later, increasing in both subtlety and complexity. Ben croons the simple but absolutely perfect lyric, “I want to be with you forever,” and everything builds and swells, creating a tangible anticipation before they finally set free a monster riff – one that is truly fit to close the album on. It has the epic conclusive feel that ‘Only In Dreams’ had on Weezer’s début but in about half the length. It leaves me wanting a little more, but ultimately fulfilled, which is exactly how an album should leave you.
I have no musical or lyrical complaints about this record. The unique sound that Annabel has crafted works, and I hope that we see many more releases to come. The only thing I could point to, and it’s a smaller than small critique, is that although 11 tracks is a good length for an album, it feels a bit short when one of those tracks is an intro and one is a segue (each lasting no longer than a minute). Now, I like these little tracks quite a bit, and I feel that they benefit the album by creating atmosphere, but I would have liked to see one more full length song on there to compensate. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t want any filler either, and the 9 full songs on here are quality tracks. So take that for what it’s worth. Great job lads, you have an absolute monument here that will frequent my turntable in the upcoming year.
Annabel’s new album Youth In Youth is out now on Count Your Lucky Stars Records. Go get it.
Grade: “Two tracks in, I knew there was something special here. It was special sauce. And the album was dripping.”
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