Friday, September 10, 2010

The Acorn: No Ghost

The Acorn
No Ghost
Rating: 3.0/5.0
Label: Bella Union

A music fan could be forgiven for being unable to keep these hordes of Canadian bands straight. As her homegrown groups continue to push modern indie in various directions, Canada unarguably has, likely permanently, altered the indie landscape, and coupled with the rise of Internet media, probably has a larger present-day visibility than Athens, Minneapolis, Chicago, DC or Seattle ever did. On the strength of a slew of EPs and debut album Glory Hope Mountain, the Acorn merits consideration as among the country's most inventive bands. That full-length, a collection of songs based on the life of singer Rolf Klausener's Honduran-born mother, joined image-rich lyrics with folk and South American rhythms and instrumentation. To these ears at least, it remains every bit as good as Funeral, You Forgot It in People or Apologies to the Queen Mary.

To the band's credit, they don't try to simply rehash the sound of Glory Hope Mountain for their follow-up; instead, No Ghost is remarkably louder and more aggressive than its predecessor. Recorded in Quebec and Montreal - press material hints at the type of isolation, probably exaggerated, that likewise frame the background to both For Emma, Forever Ago and Hospice - parts of it are miles removed from Glory's acoustically-inclined exoticism. "Cobbled From Dust" opens the album with abrasive guitars and feedback; later on, the title song combines a driving guitar with strings that sound like they're being strangled. "Restoration" deceptively begins as a simple folk song before it picks up momentum and furiously tumbles to a stop. Jeffrey Malecki's heavy drumming propels "I Made the Law" and "Bobcat Goldwraith;" both songs suggest touring with Calexico in 2009 had an effect on the Acorn, especially in the Southwest-style guitar and vocals of the former and in the horns of the latter.

Some of No Ghost retreats to the safe, familiar territory of Glory, and while these songs aren't redundant, none of them are as powerful as something like "Hold Your Breath" or "Crooked Legs." On "Misplaced," Klausener's lilting, almost breezy vocals contrast with the track's desolate tone and lyrics; the equally downcast "Almanac," "On the Line" and final song "Kindling to Cremation" feature some of the band's most understated melodies and vocal harmonies. This approach fails on "Slippery When Wet" - no relation whatsoever to New Jersey's 1980s big-haired native son - another folksy song filled with delicate guitars, even more delicate strings and truly horrid opening lyrics about a panda climbing a tree.

Fortunately, that song is a rare misstep for Klausener as a writer, as most of No Ghost reads as good on paper as it sounds in stereo. Though its songs don't follow an obvious narrative structure like Glory did, much of the album is coated with layers of dust and death, as fatalistic references to bones, hair falling from aging heads, heart attacks, veins, vultures and cauterized cobwebs dominate the songs. No Ghost doesn't necessarily have as many peak moments as Glory, but it doesn't recycle that masterwork either and does enough to suggest that the Acorn's finest effort might still be to come.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Definitely need to check out this record...