While North Carolina’s Annuals first came to people’s ears with 2006’s Be He Me, that whole operation was actually begun as a side-project by Adam Baker (QRO interview), keyboardist for Florence’s Sedona. And as Annuals came out of Sedona, now Sunfold emerges from Annuals, with Florence again taking the lead. While the results are certainly not Be, He, or Me, Florence charts a quieter, alt-country journey on Toy Tugboats.
The Tugboat trail is first blazed with “Oregon”, a soft, touching piece that does a strong job establishing Florence’s ‘grand easy listening’ sound. If anything, “Oregon” is too strong an opener, as the rest of the record somewhat struggles to match that piece’s beauty. Things get a little funkier on the following “Shrinking the Sphere”, but Florence’s limitations as a singer begin to appear. However, while “Sailed Off to Sea” is played a bit straight up, the carrying alt-country piece is single-worthy in its wistfulness.
But out at sea, the Tugboat begins to drift a bit. “Gnosis” introduces a piano-lounge, laid-back groove that is nice enough, but when followed up by the even more so “To Wake the Eye”, starts to feel thin. And throwing the disco elements in on “Gorgée de Rubis” changes things up, but doesn’t necessarily improve – the same which can be said for the backwoods country-pluck hillbilly jam, “Shapeshiftin’”.
Thankfully, Tugboat is brought back to harbor by the siren call of “Sara The American Winter”. The high and carrying piece has some of those Annuals rock undertones, but also a definite grandness to it. And the record ends on a soft pair of notes with the easy listening acoustic “Osk” and the soft seventies “Holding the Charm”.
When Baker began touring Annuals, he recruited his Sedona bandmates, and Florence has repeated that trick, first on the split Annuals/Sunfold Wet Zoo 7” (QRO review), and now with Toy Tugboats. Yet Sunfold is definitely Florence’s vision, separate and distinct from Annuals as the land is from the sea.
MP3 Stream: "Oregon"
– Graham Goodwin