Would things be different for Raleigh six-piece Annuals had they taken the term Perennials for their name, rather than the term for flowers that, each year, have to be dug from the earth and replanted? In the summer of 2006, the band—so young some members were still eagerly eyeing their 20s—appeared to be headed to the top of the orchestral indie rock heap. Pitchfork Media pegged the track "Brother" for its then-nascent Infinite Mixtape, all but swearing Annuals were headed for fame. Full-length debut Be He Me did well enough to earn the band a major-label deal, while its follow-up, 2008's coltishly eclectic but still somehow provocative Such Fun, did poorly enough to get them dropped. Annuals were, for a moment, the Internet's new favorite. Four years later, though, they're just another band looking for a way to break back into the buzz cycle.
Sweet Sister—a five-track EP recorded in Raleigh by bandleader Adam Baker and producer BJ Burton and released by the modest Los Angeles management company Banter Media—likely won't do the trick. Sonically and structurally, Sweet Sister might be the band's most elaborate and impressive output to date, with layers of strings, samples, drums and keys arranged in intricate webs that at least feel more developed and mature than the band's previous splatter-phonic approach. The songs, however, are limp and slight, the sorts of numbers that lean against the network of sound rather than build atop it.
Opener "Loxtep" mixes generic alt-rock crunch with a series of rhythmic steps and stutters that suggest newfound interests in cumbia and the discography of Sugar Ray, while the title track pulls back its layers of dancing-and-resting piano and swollen bass to reveal a chorus so insubstantial that it would surely be lost were the band still bearing down behind it. Baker sings "Turncloaking" like he's ashamed of its soundtrack, a frail latticework of slight acoustic and electric guitar lines, fragmented samples, drum swells and fades. But that's the interesting part. The song itself—a meek number about being left and leaving—doesn't deserve a setting half that compelling.
"Holler and Howl" offers some redemption, at least. Its goofy bass line and diminished foxtrot are quixotic and cheery, while the gauzy horns that guild the chorus offer a natural swing from one verse to another. Baker finally finds a hook that suits, and the band—strings and bass and an electric guitar that stretches for miles—glows brightly and then just fades away. There's a metaphor for Annuals' future in there somewhere, I'm sure.