It is really difficult to find a compelling reason not to want to like The Acorn, a five-piece folk-indie-acoustic noise band from Ottowa, Canada. They seem like a group of earnest, talented, serious musicians who strive to make really pleasing, well-crafted songs. Their 2007 release Glory Hope Mountain — a sort of concept album based on the early life in Guatamala of lead singer Rolf Klausener’s mother — was met with enthusiastic and glowing reviews. Their music was described as aching and epic. They toured with Calexico and Akron/Family.
But after two years on the road, The Acorn took a break. The band retreated to a remote cabin in the north woods of Quebec and stayed up many late nights laying down the bedrock tracks of their forthcoming album, No Ghost. “Modernity clashed with the bucolic via exploratory percussion, feedback, acoustic textures and the natural surrounding sounds,” their press release says.
They polished those tracks at Treatment Room Studios in Montreal, where “the breezy ease of the rural surrounds was buried under sweat-caked skin and cracked asphalt, birdsong drowned out by thick and engine hum.”
Listening to No Ghost several times, I get none of that rural/urban dichotomy. In fact, it takes repeated listening to start hearing the subtle pleasures this album provides. What I do hear are well-constructed, shimmering songs that display a strong working knowledge of folk, pop, and indie influences, a bit derivative but listenable. There are nice sounds and textural ideas throughout, but nothing that really grabs you and shakes you, nothing that says this is essential. Pleasant, though not exactly passionate. Like many Canadians.
The opening track, “Cobbled from Dust,” has acoustic guitar and banjo plucking away as electric guitar distortion and feedback rise up in the background, similar to the experimentations in sound that Wilco has been dabbling with for years.
“Restoration” and “Misplaced” veer more toward the pastoral landscapes of Andy Partridge, XTC, and David Gray’s White Ladder.
“I Made the Law” builds up to some nice guitar crescendos and keening vocals on the verge of screeching, and is one of the few songs on this album that shows any sign of passion or anguish. “Crossed Wires” is another standout with its jangly guitars and staggered drumbeat.
“On the Line” is sweet, short and gentle, another carefully crafted ballad. Also, “Slippery When Wet” is a nice, more traditionally influenced acoustic folk ballad. “Almanac” is a slow study in mood.
And that’s the problem with these songs — they just seem a little too restrained, too polished, and too relaxed. Even the title track, which opens with promising wall of squalling guitars and hard, driving rhythm, settles into another glimmering, shimmering pop number with soaring vocals reminiscent of Adrian Belew’s King Crimson work.
Overall, this is an album of nice songs that suffer from too much nurturing and care. A little rougher around the edges, an injection of red-blooded passion, and edgier ideas would have given these songs more of the passion and blood this album seems to lack.