Sometime-Portlander and drifter Amy Annelle has amassed a growing body of music that limps and staggers but always stays true. She is a gifted songwriter and performer: unaffected and affecting, daringly original, but all the while answering to some ancient, spooky muse. She mines ground alongside haggard romantics, naturalists and outsiders, eluding genres and creating music that is “really unique in the way it goes outside the lines” (Village Voice Choices, 2002).
Annelle left her hometown of Chicago during the waning days of the twentieth century with exactly one recording credit to her name: a creepy meditation on a neighbor named “Rudy” which appeared on an early Arena Rock compilation. Some months later she landed in Portland a virtual stranger, holing up in a house in the southeast part of town that had a basement studio called Laundry Rules. Larry Crane recorded local bands there and had just opened Jackpot Recording, and Elliott Smith had done some recording there for either/or. Inspired by this moody yet welcoming town, where everyone seemed to be in a band and volcanoes hulked in the distance, Annelle waited out the rainy season writing songs and making home recordings. Her 1999 solo debut Which One’s You? was recorded and released by Portland’s then CDR-only label Hush Records while, starting with guitarist Ryan Stowe, The Places came together one by one. Friends often sat in on recording sessions and live sets, but a usual lineup was Annelle backed by Stowe, Alaric True on accordion and piano, drummer Jordan Hudson and Zak Riles on bass and banjo.
Annelle would bring songs to her growing band as she wrote them, and arrangements blossomed at house parties and club gigs all over Portland and the west coast. Casual recording sessions, at Type Foundry and other studios around town, resulted in a self-released album which would come to be known as The Autopilot Knows You Best. It was picked up in 2001 by San Francisco’s Absolutely Kosher Records and repackaged to include cover art by Eric Mast and Zak Riles’ stark photography. The album won universal praise for its gentleness and familiarity that gave way to darker, starker truths. It appeared on Village Voice “Pazz and Jop” Top Ten lists and was among the year’s most played albums on CMJ-reporting radio stations. Late 2001 saw the release of Annelle’s A School of Secret Dangers on Hush Records, which had grown into a full-fledged label home for an eclectic roster of artists. Also a critical and college radio favorite, the album’s 4-track home recordings and minimal arrangements emphasized a powerfully restrained and revealing storyteller’s voice, and included more immediate versions of a few songs from Which One’s You?, which had sold out its limited pressing.
Annelle has toured recently with a looser, stranger version of the Places (Jason Sands from Reeks & the Wrecks, Jude Webre of Dimestore Dance Band, Timothy Horner from the Grails and multi-instrumentalist Dylan Reilly), and also as a member of Pseudosix. A new album, Tell Tales, has been started with engineer and drummer Jay Pelicci (Erase Errata, 31 Knots) at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. Staying for now in Austin, Texas, Annelle will be touring the US with The Places to support the release of Call It Sleep. In the past the Places have shared the stage with diverse bands like Elf Power, the Mountain Goats, Michael Hurley, Thalia Zedek and Godspeed You, Black Emperor!. In fact, nearly a year of constant touring (with Webre and Johnny Schier of Last of the Juanitas), drifting and a brief but fruitful residency in New York City came between Call It Sleep’s initial recording sessions and its completion. Another complicated year preceded its release. This only adds to the album’s resigned urgency–and to the sense that over its course Call It Sleep is unfolding as a beautifully battered, subtly detailed map of the dark side. ~d. walker 2004