In spite of its tremendous significance, the watershed election of Barack Obama to the office of president of the United States is, to my mind, only the second most historically unlikely thing to happen this November. The first is that Anne Adams is actually releasing an album. Nearly five years (and a full presidential term) have elapsed since, under the name Per Se, she brought "Adelaide"—her wordplay-lovin', hand-clappin', spare-strummin', gold-hearted ragamuffin of a debut song—into the world, and the flickering hope that Adams would ever treat the smitten public of Portland with a second recorded tune, let alone a full album, had nearly been extinguished. But 30 discarded tracks, seven engineers, three lineups, a new band name, an abandoned record title, and who knows how many wrung hands later, change is upon us, and under her newly adopted moniker Grey Anne, Adams has at long last brought us her first full-length album: Facts n Figurines.
Of course, while she was having her recording ambitions repeatedly thwarted by logistical hiccups, personnel changes, injuries, dependence on a rotating cohort of supportive but busy engineers, and her own deep-rooted, detail-oriented perfectionism, Adams developed one of the most cherished and unique stage shows in the Northwest. Whether playing solo as Grey Anne or backed by the two women who joined Per Se in its latter days, Adams typically dons a set of homemade fairy wings, the most conspicuous prop in her interactive musical theater of the intimate, a performance style that can be described as Disney by way of K Records. With her overwhelming charisma, Adams coaxes audiences into singing, clapping, and stomping along with her as she plucks her guitar, mans her loop station, and regales them with unabashedly confessional stories (during songs and in between them) and folk melodies that contrast sweetly with the presentational manner in which they are delivered.
How then does Grey Anne's music translate to the recorded medium on Facts n Figurines, where it has to stand on its own, without her personal charm and DIY theatricality to assist? Very well, as it happens, thanks to Adams' superb lyrical sensibility and her varied, colorful arrangements and instrumentation recalling the full-band era of Per Se, complete with guitar, drums, bass, accordion, flute, and, of course, Adams' lithe and naturally expressive voice. Like their live counterparts, Grey Anne's recorded songs are each governed by a specific structural conceit that casts their nakedly emotional content in a cerebral mold, leaving the listener genuinely moved, but also with a sense of mental satisfaction akin to completing a crossword puzzle. Songs such as "Last Call," which is sung as a two-person dialogue, display an internal theatricality even in the absence of physical show, and the phenomenally pretty, bittersweet melodies that center album-closing highlights "Trying" and "Chinese New Year" need no explanation of any kind.
Adams muses: "When I play a show, I want to be suspenseful as well as sweet. I want to hypnotize and haunt, and all the while remain completely real, completely clear. I guess, in effect, surreal. But these are the same characteristics that I've tried to build into the music. I hope these moods come through in the music alone, even without a winged messenger."
Grey Anne performs at the Artistery on Friday, November 14.