Annuals: "Dry Clothes"


By Mark Abraham | 30 October 2006

When I started writing for the Glow last January, Clay apparently thought I had good taste in music. Then, one dismal day in April, he found out I liked Architecture in Helsinki. Story goes, he took his treasured life-sized cutout of me (in my famous “grooving to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Have Nothing’” pose) out to the backyard, doused my effigy in lighter fluid, and lit that fucker on fire. It’s very true what they say: finding out that your hero is fallible is hard, but getting closure on that false promise requires effort.

That’s bullshit, of course, but those are the sorts of ill feelings this sweet band somehow ferments. And it’s not that I don’t get the criticisms aimed at the Australian combo. I’ll admit their sugary recordings aren’t exactly winding through the entire gamut of human emotion, sure; I just don’t quite buy that they themselves represent some sort of uber-twee inhuman embrace of perk. I mean, fine: Battlestar Galatica awesomely teaches us how robots are evil only because they mistake our basest traits as the most human; Architecture in Helsinki could well be that world’s bizarro dimension, where they’re punishing us for happiness by waging psychological warfare using weapons that strike with all the venom of particularly barfy Hallmark cards. I like that though; I like cute, I like ambitious cuteness, and I like a band that understands that being cute, in and of itself, isn’t something worth recording, but that “cute” itself, as an emotional center, isn’t somehow contrary to the mission statement of indie rock. And, whatever, if it makes you barf, fine; we’re cool, and I’ll still help you recuperate with Gang of Four or whatever, but the larger problem for me is their legacy: what band doesn’t have eight members who think they have the monopoly on cute these days? Or “deck,” as I hear the new term is that we’re using. To use a really out-of-date term, I say “bummer,” ‘cause most of you can’t play your instruments, your songs all sound the same, and you’ve missed the basic success of the Architecture in Helsinki formula: they’re a good band; you’re not.

The Annuals don’t entirely change my mind, but if “Dry Clothes” is any indication, they at least understand the difference between trying to sell yourself on a cute platform and actually writing and performing songs around the platform itself. They’re actually pilfering from all across the indie spectrum; along with Architecture we get snatches of Animal Collective, Clue to Kalo, Thee More Shallows (just four that come to mind offhand), and a whole spate of noises and vocal harmonies. After a slow intro that utilizes both of those things, an instrumental break shows riffage that reminds me of my home in the Maritimes (that’s the part of Canada that drinks a lot and has a large Celtic heritage, for you Americans); it sounds like the breakdown of a drinking song, raised glasses clinking as triumphant instruments stab through the roundabout angularly. Much of the mid-portion is a shifting base of vocal tempos anchored first by bass notes and second by guitar stabs in quick succession. Adam Baker’s voice delivers the lyrics in coos and screams (one big vocal misstep -- the unnecessary and not particularly funny “one more time” howled towards the end) as the band rollicks behind him. Despite the energy of the performance, not to mention the sheer amount of noise going on, it’s hard to forgive some of the more distracting samples, many of which sound like presets or…well, just not very good. Herbert may lay scrapes across his recordings, but he does it with purpose, and not just when there’s a space in the proceedings.

Maybe that’s the secret post-Architecture in Helsinki bands need to discover. It’s certainly the lesson that the Fiery Furnaces and Broken Social Scene need to learn as they eat themselves -- that you don’t need to fill all the spaces in the conversation. The best part of the song, unsurprisingly, is the contrast at the end; slow, rumbling chords back guttural intonations of “dry clothes.” Chilling, snarky, and sweet all at the same time, which is why the Annuals have a good thing going here: oddball, melodic, partially sampled pop with some oomph and no apparent fear of losing on the risks taken. In short, this is an absolutely charming pop song, if you can stomach the overwhelming glaze.