Art is at its most compelling when it delivers a powerful message. Not only do The Annulments deliver such a powerful message, they do so through a range of different voices. On their debut album ‘Everything I Lost’ the group showcase their versatility as they seamlessly shift tones, and lead vocal duties, through their gifted group of singers. As the album progresses though it’s the songwriting that really begins to shine through.
Stephen Coyle, the band’s sole songwriter, shows early on his ability to write interesting acoustic ballads with opener All The Stars. Coyle deals with his somewhat troubled relationship with a hint of optimism, which is a breath of fresh compared to the direction many other songwriters take. However, despite this promising start, some of early tracks lack a real identity and fail to stand apart from each other. This is also apparent in the instrumentation, as too often these tracks fit neatly under the umbrella of “folk”.
The first track to break away from this is Cuckoo which is a much more jazz inspired track with chromatic chords and a tremolo guitar lead. The Second Estate follows on with this “jazzy” trend with a lounge accompaniment and its tale of greed and bankruptcy.
It’s on these tracks that the band show their playful side, though they show throughout that they are equally adept at showing a vulnerable side. When the band do so it’s the vocals that take centre stage and move the songs forward. The haunting beauty of Come Down From Your Mountain is a prime example, with chilling harmonies soaring over the simple arrangement.
Coyle has a real gift for painting pictures with words and on this track he reaches his peak lyrically. “Come down from your mountain and lead me/follow the stream that’s a river to me/leave behind your heights so weathered and beaten/ you know the world isn’t what you wanted it to be.” Sometimes the music does the talking but, as The Annulments show, there is often a raw power that comes with the written word.
With all this delicate songwriting sometimes you need some grit, some meat on the bone. The album’s apex is the great epic The Flood as Coyle snarls “I got back everything I lost, at such a cost”. In a way this could be a mission statement for the album, highlighting the toll relationships can take on us. The real triumph of ‘Everything I Lost’, however, is just how well everything meshes together. As a debut album it’s a torrent of emotions full of joy, despair, sadness and grief.