Annabel;Lee – Annabel;Lee

3 out of 5

Label: French Dance Records

Produced by: Annabel;Lee (?)

Were I to select some snippet from the middle of any given track on Annabel;Lee’s debut album, you’d hear all the hallmarks of early 00s emo / screamo – the dual yelly dudes, one with an atonal speak / shout, one in a higher register; dueling guitars that trade between punk riffs and grungy breakdowns; confessional – though vague – lyrics about lost loves and the fight against conformity… It’s a style, and to their credit, Annabel;Lee play it extremely well. Given that the dudes must’ve been pretty young, their management of rhythm and harmony and time changes are on point, and though I’ve knocked the lyrics for fitting a trope, they’re also not notable sing-songy or silly – just unpointed in the way that personal poetic scribblings can be.

But I mentioned snippets. Were you to listen to tracks from the beginning, or digest some select tracks as a whole – Redundant Openings For Threadbare Employees; closer This Seems Just About Right – you’d start to hear some different, and wildly impressive things, pushing the group either towards more latter-day, post-rock influenced emo, or the more angular, math-y riffage of groups like Blood Brothers. This complements the quality of craft I’d previously mentioned: the group doesn’t skip a beat when functioning in these modes, and syncs them to the more typical screamo stuff seamlessly. But every one of those more bold moments does give way to such typical stuff, during which it can be hard to discern A;L from other acts that were popping up at the time, or, for better or worse, groups that likely came soon after and were influenced by this one.

Interestingly, this is a case in which some indulgence serves a band for the better: when Annabel;Lee is sticking to a recognizable script, they do it well – any maybe they were even one of the ones doing it first – but beyond energy and precision, there’s not much to “sell” it. A good live act, you might think, but lacking that “spark” that sells an album. However, then they do indulge, either going a bit more somber and serious or letting their music-wankier sides play out, and suddenly that spark is there.

They were a short-lived group, and it’s interesting to imagine how things might’ve evolved had they stuck around longer.