by DAVE MAASS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & ake the CNBC analysts at their word: The U.S. financial crisis will impact every single sector of the economy -- including the small sector of the cultural economy that supports indie-rock angels from Appalachia, already scraping by on the proceeds of domestic tours and album sales.
"I was in the bank, putting one of my checks in, and I look up and the Dow is down 400 f---ing points," says Adam Baker, the creative motor that powers Annuals, a six-piece indie band (more like a mini-orchestra) from Raleigh, N.C. Odd though it may be for the term "Dow" to issue from the mouth of an underground star, this was the morning the $700 billion bailout failed on the House floor. By the close of the stock exchange, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had sunk 777 points, the largest plunge in U.S. history.
Ask Baker what was on his mind before the collapse (aside from his band's sophomore album, Such Fun, set to drop Oct. 7) and the answer is still "money."
"I'm broke," he says. "Just trying to figure out how I'm going to be able to pay the bills each month."
You and 305 million other Americans, right? But Baker's no Zach de la Rocha; Annuals' music isn't built to bring down the establishment. Instead, for all its pop-tronic elements, Annuals constructs cathedrals of sound so large and layered that it seems only the valleys and skies above Baker's native Blue Ridge Mountains are vast enough to contain them. Political barbs don't disfigure its lyrics and, yet, even the most benign of indie-ethereal beings can't avoid the conjunction of history, an economic crisis and a national election.
Annuals play Spokane on Wednesday, the first stop on an album-release tour that will take the band through virtually every major swing state -- Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania -- before depositing them in Florida, the vortex of recount nightmares, on election day. (Even Baker's North Carolina was just painted battleground gray by the MSNBC forecasters.)
"You think we haven't noticed?" Baker says, adding that two weeks earlier, the band was scheduled to play a Democratic rally (cancelled at the last moment). "I'm really excited about this election actually, because, honestly, Obama's my man," he says. "But I'm looking forward to either of the choices at least being better than what I've been growing up through for the last eight years."
Growing up, indeed. Annuals' members are all baby-faced early-twenty-sumpins. And Baker describes their 2006 debut Be He Me as a fetal album, nurtured in isolation before being Pitchforked, kicking and screaming, into the real world of Conan O'Brien guest slots and Veronica Mars soundtracks.
"One thing you have to understand is that it was recorded inside my little bubble," Baker says. "I had no idea that anyone was ever going to hear it. Those songs were in a pile of, like, 40 other songs I'd already done because nobody was paying attention. I didn't have it in my mind at that point that I could actually try to talk to somebody through tunes."
Through some sort of mystical embargo, the band's label, Canvasback Music, has successfully kept the band's new album off the file-sharing networks (including Soulseek, which I Fifthly plead I know nothing about), which makes it difficult to gauge which direction the band is growing. But they are maturing, Baker says.
In the band's live performances, for example, Baker is taking a step back from the synthesizers and drums to focus on the acoustic guitar, leaving room for drummer Zack Oden to expand to the keyboard and guitarist Kenny Florence to devote himself to the pedal steel guitar, one of the recurring instrumental themes of the new album.
But more subtly, Such Fun also represents a personal leap for the band, from introspection to mass communication.
"With this one, I definitely wanted to give a little bit more than just weird sounds," Baker says. "There are still plenty of weird sounds -- anyone who heard the record being worked has been freaked out at least once -- but I'm getting older. And as I get older, I get more f---ing terrified, day by day, by how this world is turning to shit. It has to get in there, you know?"
Current events figure only obliquely and thematically into Annuals' music. Such Fun's fourth track, "Down the Mountain," for one, alludes to the archetypes of the Great Depression.
"The character that's the telling the story in that song is spot-on from that era," Baker says. "It's just about a guy having a hard time with his financial and social status and he's so upset that he ends up enjoying falling down the mountain to his death -- just enjoying the fun of the speed and flying through the trees. You never get to do that, but at least he gets to see it once while he's falling down the mountain."
It's important to remember that while the music industry may suffer, the suffering itself, both personally and universally, is what makes music (and musicians) come of age. And perhaps all we can do, as we brave our own Great Depression, is join the Annuals in worshipping the whoosh as we all fall with the WaMus and Wachovias down the mountain.
Annuals with Minus the Bear at the Service Station on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 7 pm. $14; $17, at the door. Call 466-1696.