Tralala, Jim Noir, Annuals

at Spaceland, December 6

This was a peculiar bill, teaming three disparate bands all grasping for the Great Pop Music brass ring with widely opposed thumbs. North Carolina’s much-hyped Annuals opened with a long, ferally delivered but finally tedious set of “anthems.” Annuals present a hodgepodge of standard indie-rock influences (Brian Wilson, Aphex Twin, Mike Patton, Björk), but their folk-chord-dominated shadings, broken up with attempts at fancy structure (à la ’73 prog rock), aim for the wide-screen grandeur of something like Broken Social Scene. All fine and dandy, but I thought singer Adam Baker’s head would snap off his neck from such sheer perfervid belief in it all. Underneath the “passion” and adrenaline, the songs, I noticed, are simply not there yet, neither melodically nor harmonically interesting.

Understand that music critics will always slobber pitifully over anthemic-type bands, thus Annuals’ debut, Be He Me (Ace Fu), is raking in the plaudits from Spin, Rolling Stone, The New York Times and (death knell) NPR, for cryin’ out loud. U2 gets a Grammy every year for recycling its anthems, as you know. I’m just saying that I hope Annuals learn to distrust the fawnery and concentrate on writing substantive, unforgettable songs. It’s a simple request. Or is it?

One couldn’t escape that suffocating feeling that Annuals’ trajectory had been preprogrammed. By contrast, Jim Noir presented an almost completely untalked-about phenomenon that, to our great satisfaction, proved worthy of gushing praise. Jim Noir’s real name is Alan Roberts, and he’s an immensely likable, unassuming bloke from near Manchester who does everything the ’60s-’70s-pop-obsessed bands claim they do: write genuinely melodic, smartly harmonized and memorable pop tunes — with much wacky good humor and a complete lack of fuss. He combines breezy whimsy with a gift for distilling the very essence of such great pop as the Beatles and Beach Boys and, more interestingly, their hybridizing offspring — E.L.O., XTC, on up into Super Furry Animals. Noir’s album, Tower of Love (Barsuk), is extraordinarily good and addictive, and seeing him live made me hope this modest, easygoing artist wouldn’t fall through the cracks for lack of marketing bullpucky. The crowd felt it too, calling Jim and his band back for an encore.

Tralala’s trump card is its four lead singers, all wimmen, though tonight they made do with three. Admittedly, these Brooklynites’ total rockingness owes nothing to the harsh criteria outlined above: Their garage-punk rave-ups utterly lack substance, and mostly sound the same. The singers never even attempt to harmonize, and the tunes are hashed out by a sloppy but hefty backing band. What sells Tralala is the way that frontline yells in unison like punk-rock sorority sisters gathered ’round the piano on Friday night — one sassy and gleeful, one brazenly cynical, one kinda bored. It looked and sounded great live. In fact, their stripped-down sameness, song after song, perversely made the whole thing sound better and better as the evening raged to a close. Fuck it, go for it: Tralala’s message was simple and wise.

—John Payne

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