Lee Switzer-Woolf - Annihilation Signals (Album Review)



Annihilation Signals is the second solo album of Reading-based singer-songwriter Lee Switzer-Woolf. The follow-up to 2022's Scientific Automatic Palmistry, the album centers around Switzer-Woolf's candid and heart-on-the-sleeve songwriting while folding in a variegated backdrop of sounds; from affected vocals and processed drum beats to whirling keys and an assemblage of subtle acoustic and electric guitars. 

Switzer-Woolf's lyrics deal in highly stylistic and imagistic free-verse, often creating lofty songs that are high in ideals and low in accessibility. For example, the opening track, "The Falling Shrapnel of a Satellite", features perplexing phrases such as "My religion is a sandwich board that reads 'the end is nigh'" in one breathy line. This verbosity could be hard to keep up with, though it also offers entertaining one-liners that play like mini-stories, like on "Yucat√°n" where he relays "My father's graverobbers, they've been talking to me like friends. They've been asking for my measurements".

Getting used to the way Switzer-Wolf delivers his ambiguous stream-of-consciousness lyrics takes some time to get used to. While the ears assimilate, one is charmed by the amalgam of acoustic folk songwriting and persistently digital drum beats, such as on the title track or the album highlight, "Tried and Tested Acts of Separation", which takes Guided By Voices' melodic sensibilities and intellect and a more restrained approach to create an emotionally coherent and impactful track about the pains of living a life in constant flux ("You never asked me about my divorce. I don't speak to anyone from college anymore.") Another highlight is the hypotonic repetition of "I Only Talk to God When I Think I'm Dying", which touches on themes of atheism and forgoes percussion and snappy energy in favor of a more humbled and atmospheric approach, all the better for it.

Elsewhere, the delayed spoken word of "Whistling Like the Bomb" paints an image of a disoriented narrator at odds with their environment and life within it before screechy guitars play out over a drum machine. "I Think I Might Be Whatever This Isn't" features Lee's better half, Kimberley Switzer-Woolf. The couple also play in the project The Seasons In Shorthand, and their synergy is apparent in this hard-hitting pop song. 

The second half of this record takes a turn down darker roads, though it never strays too far from its say-anything-that's-interesting approach to lyrics. The vaguer, the better, it seems. "That Bastard Bird" has elements of aggression in its profanity, sci-fi sputters, and reverberated-to-the-heavens snare. "Comet Watch" starts as a star-gazed acoustic ballad before turning to glitchy electric guitar noodling and back again, closing this rather peculiar album with its most focused and accessible moment

Lee Switzer-Woolf has plenty to say and sufficient creative energy to get it out. Unafraid of veering towards a more geek rock style, his ostensible readiness to say whatever comes into his head has its advantages and disadvantages. It's sometimes too self-referential and hard to relate to; other times, it sparks the imagination and lifts the spirit.

★★★