Album Review: Annabel – Having It All

Ohio’s Annabel have always had a pretty clear handle on their sound. Achingly majestic and gorgeously layered, they’ve been the epitome of the derided word – and I personally hate it as a term – ‘twinkle’.

Throw in some glorious choruses and stellar melodies, it’s remained something of a surprise to me as to why they haven’t made the jump into the wider consciousness, especially during the ‘emo revival’.

Anyway, what’s clear from the off on the group’s Tiny Engines’ full-length debut (and first release on the label since 2010’s ‘Here We Are Tomorrow’), is that they’ve never sounded better. In fact, they sound cinematic, and you could easily see ‘Having It All’ working as a soundtrack to the latest Noah Baumbach or Duplass brothers’ drama. Importantly, there’s also a punch to ‘Having It All’ that was missing from their previous output. It’s a subtle difference, but it just means there’s more oomph throughout. It’s not so concerned with nodding, noodling rhythms and lush arrangements – although these still feature heavily – but instead there’s more urgency about how they’ve gone about things.

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Take ‘Another Day, Another Vitamin’ which switches from a beautiful, orchestral sound to a pulsating and urgent rush before cascading back. It’s gorgeous and rhythmic, but builds to a huge swell. It’s not hugely different to the blueprint which made ‘Youth In Youth’ such an excellent listen, but the added drive means there’s a much fuller, more exciting sound.

Likewise ‘The Fortunate Ones’ really pushes this newfound confidence. Reminiscent of the rock songs on Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Clarity’ rather than the lovely, delicate soundscapes with which the album is known for, it means ‘Having It All’ ticks all the boxes when it comes to being a rounded, modern, emo album.

Throw in a couple of tracks which ease up on the usually full arrangements – ‘Days in Between’ is a slow and haunting change of pace, while ‘How to: A Self-Help Guide’ recalls The Get Up Kids after they left emo but found Wilco – and you have an album which is both breath-taking in its scope and brilliantly realised in its execution.

Of course, for all of these blurring of the boundaries and tinkering at the edge of their sound, it’s the songs which adhere closest to the Annabel blueprint that excite most. ‘For Years and Years’ is simply stunning, a mid-paced, fist-in-the-air number which makes you “want to believe”. It’s the sort of song I’d get all gooey at in a live setting and it’s testament to Annabel’s skill as songwriters that they can make such a mundane phrase so life-affirming and powerful. ‘Everything’, meanwhile, is somewhat subtler, but takes a sumptuous drum beat and turns a percussive driven indie-pop song into the album’s centrepiece.

Lyrically, there’s a conversational tone throughout, meaning without a lyric sheet, it’s difficult to riddle out what they’re going for. “Not everything has a meaning” they sing on the aforementioned ‘Everything’, yet you can’t escape the themes of identity, growth and belief which flow through ‘Having It All’. It means there’s depth to the record that’s away from the standard fare and I cannot wait to sit down with the record and bury myself in the lyric sheet.

It takes a lot to stand out from other bands in the oversaturated emo revival. Annabel have always stood apart, but now they clearly stand above many of their peers. Like Foxing or Prawn, they’ve managed to deliver an album packed with feeling and emotion but which also has a distinct identity. Tantalisingly close to being an essential emo revival record, ‘Having It All’ is a career highlight for Annabel and yet another winner from the ever-dependable Tiny Engines.

4.5/5

‘Having It All’ by Annabel is released on 9th June on Tiny Engines.

Annabel links: Facebook|Twitter|Bandcamp

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)

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