So I was on a whirlwind trip to Würzburg, Germany — home of the Freak Show Art Rock festival — this weekend for a cousin’s wedding (and we’ve accumulated an excellent backlog of reviews to be posted this week). I got back yesterday afternoon, along with a housemate who was in Amsterdam for work for an equally brief time; we were both jet-lagged to hell but needed to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime hour, so we decided to go to see Annie at the Black Cat here in DC.
Annie, of course, is the Norweigian dance/electro-pop star whose debut album, Anniemal, somewhat inexplicably garnered rave reviews from the top indie-rock websites like Pitchfork, Stylus, and Tiny Mix Tapes. Pitchfork even ran a feature-length interview with her. Of the major indie web press, only PopMatters gave Anniemal a less than stellar review. I picked up the album and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it became such a hipster sensation. My housemate probably said it best: Annie is for indie kids too cool to admit to liking bouncy, fun pop like Britney Spears. The fact that she’s from Norway and has a bit of Euro-techno in her sound gives her that little bit of street cred that her American culture-industry byproducts never had any chance of having.
So that’s what I thought from listening to Anniemal, anyway. To me the album sounds like girl-pop music with more housey backbeats. Don’t get me wrong, I like this stuff, I just didn’t understand why hipsters who wouldn’t touch girl-pop with a hundred-foot pole would glom onto it so obsessively. The music’s not anything particularly out there and the lyrics certainly aren’t any better than anything Christina Aguilera or Kylie Minogue have cranked out (and are sometimes noticeably worse; check out the line from “Chewing Gum” that goes, “I don’t want to settle down, I just want to have fun / I don’t want to settle down, I just want to chew gum!” — yikes!).
But the live show left me with a slightly different impression. First of all, there was a guitarist. Maybe I totally missed this, but I don’t remember much guitar, if any, on Anniemal. But live, he played a big role in the sound, and he wasn’t just playing cheesy melodies or strumming rhythm either; he was playing some pretty far-out shit at times. Second of all, Annie’s vocals were pretty far down in the mix. If she were really the Euro Britney, that certainly wouldn’t be the case; she’d be front and center. Third, the DJ (who also took a pretty nifty electric piano solo in “Come Together”), while often providing a thumping house beat, was also doing some pretty wild synth flailings. Basically, the music was just a lot more “out” than what’s on Anniemal, which was totally unexpected and kind of refreshing. On the other hand, the mix was pretty bad (the guitarist was drowing everything out at times and I think the vocals could have been higher), and I’m not sure I actually enjoyed the music as much as I do what’s on the album. Still, I have a much better understanding of the indie/underground appeal of this stuff now.
Now, after two weeks where there was literally a show every other day that I was interested in, there’s a bit of a dry spell in the DC live music scene, and things aren’t picking up again until late April. Check out my running list of interesting shows in DC.