This review has arrived painfully late to the hands of Dusted management because it has taken so long for me to pinpoint the precise problem with Anika’s self-titled debut. Its elements add up: an icy, Nico-voiced singer, dubby post-punk riffs, sharp production by Geoff Barrow of Portishead and BEAK>. I have, for instance, no complaint about the album’s first song, “Terry.” Its beats and synth riffs copped from a circa-1993 PC basketball game; the effect, when teamed with Anika’s cold intonation of girl-group lyrics about a motorcycle-riding boyfriend’s demise and a Gang of Four bass riff, is completely engaging. It’s actually pretty funny.
Certainly not all popular music need be fun, catchy, enjoyable, warm, charming, or any number of adjectives reviewers from other publications might apply to recent releases by, say, Tennis or Best Coast. In that sense, Anika represents a welcome shift from these days’ trendier bands. It’s barely a pop record: its beats are too deliberate to be catchy, and its somber mood seems derived from the more self-serious moments of late ’70s post-punk. That said, Anika is emotionless to a fault. It lacks moments a listener can latch onto: the arrangements seem so constructed, Anika’s voice precise and distant. Its subject matter jars, with covers of overwrought girl-group laments like “Terry” juxtaposed against hyper-consciously political songs.
An actual acknowledgment of the war in an indie-rock record is surely overdue, but Anika chooses a peculiar format: a dull seven-minute droning-dub cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” concluding with a minute-long sample of an Iraq War veteran atoning for his service and criticizing the U.S. military. It’s funny, because Dylan’s vocals on the original number are among his most impassioned deliveries, while Anika strips the visceral anger from the song, couching rage in a sexy voice and thudding bass. More than anything, it’s confusing.
Anika was apparently recorded in a short time, and it’s hard not to wish it felt at once more urgent and more cohesive. Though dismissing a record for lacking feeling sounds painfully corny, this album would work brilliantly if it had some spirit and didn’t sound like merely the fusion and execution of a bunch of different sounds and ideas. One of the best songs on the album, “Officer Officer,” sinks Anika’s spoken lyrics — elliptically angry, kind of mysterious — behind a rattling tambourine beat and a thin, dissonant guitar part. It’s also one of the few songs on the record that doesn’t seem to be a cover, a promising sign should Anika decide to record again.