Believe it or not, Norwegian chanteuse Annie has been around for 10 years now. In 1999, she was a rising star with her club smash "The Greatest Hit" when her boyfriend became gravely ill and eventually passed on. Beset by tragedy, she disappeared for several years and returned with 2004's mass-acclaimed Anniemal, a sensation of what could only be appropriately called underground Pop.
The gap between Anniemal and Annie's new CD Don't Stop is equidistant to the time between "Greatest Hit" and Anniemal, but the circumstances that lead to Don't Stop's delay are more frustrating than tragic. Struggles with a major label led to a battle for the rights to her own material, which she thankfully salvaged and brought to Smalltown Supersound, where they were turned into a pitch-perfect pop art object.
Amazingly enough, what Don't Stop sounds like more than anything else is what the pop future was promised to sound like after the electronica infiltration of mainstream around the time Annie first started making music (what we actually got is a different thing). Even more improbable is that the majority of Don't Stop was produced by Xenomania, the outfit who laid the groundwork for current radio's electro inflection with the rancid rave-up "Believe" by Cher about a decade ago, a single we can also thank for unleashing auto-tune onto the world.
The other sound engineering contributions of Don't Stop, by Anniemal producers Timo Kaukolampi and Richard X, as well as a track produced by the indie dance-centric Paul Epworth (The Rapture, Friendly Fires, Bloc Party), are consistent with Xenomania's glittery stroboscopic dancetopia and the albums plays as well a long player as 12 back-to-back singles.
It's a decidedly less bubblegum affair than Anniemal, but that doesn't make it any less infectious. I defy listeners to not come out of even a lone listen of the album without becoming enslaved to the rotational linguistic rhythms of the many adhesive choruses. You know you're in trouble from the opening queue of tribal drums and cheerleader chants in "Hey Annie." By the paradisiacal swell of the arpeggiated breakdown, you're hooked and it's clear there's a special album here in the distillation of robotic pulses and bubbly croon to their magnanimous essence. Annie's is the Britney album on Kompakt, the Girls Aloud disc for Environ, the Moloko remixes on Sincerely Yours.
As large as the sound gets on big singles like "Songs Remind Me of You," "Take You Home," and "My Love is Better," Annie's sound is precise and economical. Every sound is of utilitarian value, exactly where it should be (and it should be, after five years). They even find a use for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand on two tracks. Free of crud, dust, line noise, and tape hiss, like much of today's celebrated underground music, Annie's tracks are intensified enough for the radio without sounding overproduced.
"Bad Times" is lightning in a bottle in the back seat of a car speeding out of town, the wind in your hair and the vertiginous singe of the synth as pure liberation. "Bad Times never sounded so good," Annie sings. Damn right.
"I Don't Like Your Band" 2-steps to a lo-res sample before exploding into a blown-glass electrofunk that enunciates a rarely touched-upon condition in music. "Your latest 7 inch sounds so obscene/ Unless you spin it on 45/ That stuff you play /It sounds so passé/ Don't get me wrong/ I like you/ But I don't like your band," sings Annie, giving voice to the infinite frustrations of knowing someone who is really nice, but plays terrible music.
Thankfully, it's not an issue here. Annie's neither kind (as evidenced by "I Don't Like Your Band" and the boasts on "My Love is Better") nor prone to cliché passions. The only real misstep is "The Breakfast Song" whose incessant rhetorical recital "What do you want for breakfast?" grows tedious quickly. The rest of the time Don't Stop is an album you don't want to stop, showing up both indie and mainstream electropop with a singular sound that transcends both. Hopefully, it won't be another five years until she restarts.
Label: Smalltown Supersound. Release Date: November 17, 2009. Price: $18.98. ASIN: B002LIZWVG
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