Although only a junior at Rice University, Annie Lin has solidly established herself on the local scene. The driving force behind Rice Acoustic Music Night at the Mausoleum, a showcase of the school's pop and folk artists-in-training, Lin has also made solo appearances all over town, from No tsu oH to the recently shuttered Instant Karma. Now comes her debut release, Math Pope, a smart, self-possessed effort that combines a pop sensibility with gritty yet cheery folk rhythms.
Savvy and academically rooted, her music is not the usual pop-folk fare. Combining references to Aristophanes and T.S. Eliot with the daily melodrama of college, Lin offers a glimpse into the life of a girl struggling to find herself, coping with emotions and difficulties ranging from relationships to the end of a great freshman year.
"This Year," about the swirl of thoughts that accompanied Lin on the plane ride back to California following her first year of college, is refreshing in its lightheartedness and candid, conversational style. Yet while her melodies and lyrics are catchy and intelligent, they lack a certain bite, the kind that comes with age and experience. Lin lists Ani DiFranco as a primary influence, along with folk-turned-pop-rocker Lisa Loeb. However, Lin's songs are far too happy and sane to be compared to DiFranco's -- even the tunes DiFranco has released since her marriage to Goat Boy.
Unlike DiFranco, whose angry and militant sound was derived from living her waning teenage years on her own in New York City, Lin grew up in suburban Southern California on Chinese soap-opera soundtracks and post-L.A.-riots gangsta rap. She has something to say, but don't expect anything earth-shattering.
Closer in tone to the plaintive and poignant voice that Loeb promulgates on songs like "Stay" and "Do You Sleep?" Lin infuses her music with the same kind of energy and social commentary. She is concerned about the intricacies and events in her own life but reluctant to address greater political issues. Songs like "Whole" and "Speak" underscore Lin's promise as a poet; her lyrics are not yet polished, but they tell stories intelligently, making her work satisfying on many levels. An English major, Lin trots out themes and quotations from the classical texts and uses them to her advantage, most notably on "Odysseus."
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Earthy, accessible and fun, Lin is definitely here to stay. With age and life experience, her music no doubt will take on topics of greater importance. In the meantime, we'll ponder the deeper meaning of the title Math Pope.