Folk-poppers The Acorn seem destined to follow the career trajectories of underappreciated bands like Doves or Rock Plaza Central. The Ottawan quintet’s chest-beating 2007 concept LP, Glory Hope Mountain, attempted to break that roadblock and frontman Rolf Klausener’s delicate equilibrium of hearth-like timbre and stirring upsurge might just crash it down on No Ghost. The Acorn hit a spry pace here, as chiming guitars, violin embellishments, and burbling electronics coalesce into a harmonious mélange.
Although they formed back in 2003, Ottawa’s the Acorn didn’t garner much attention until 2007’s Glory Hope Mountain, an ambitious concept album that chronicled the fascinating childhood of frontman Rolf Klausener’s mother. The five piece’s follow-up, No Ghost, isn’t built around any particular theme or narrative arc, but it still stands as an album that impresses for its scope and songcraft. The album confirms that the Acorn possesses a masterful ability to evoke specific moods from the subtler manipulations of texture and space.
It was 10 years ago that this Canadian and my friend Wes Smiderle, who was then the nightlife columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, trekked through the snow one cold winter’s night in our nation’s capital to see a concert by a band called the Recoilers. I won’t bore you with too many details, other than to say that we saw the gig at Barrymore’s Music Hall, which is one of the biggest venues in Ottawa for live music. (Well, before it seemed to devolve to playing canned music at ‘80s and ‘90s music themed nights.) To be a local band playing the venue was a fairly big deal at the time, since it fits a few hundred people shy of a thousand.
The Acorn's No Ghost is a curious example of what happens when a band has everything going for it but a compelling, original voice. The songs are inventively arranged, exuberantly played, and occasionally beautiful. There are moments of disarming simplicity-- the sparse, shimmering ballad "Misplaced"; the dusty banjo plonking of "Slippery When Wet"-- and moments of high color and energy, like the title track, built on a needling bed of guitar harmonics and some sawing violins.
The latest Acorn album has the good graces to make the surroundings of its listener seem a little more rustic and Canadian (it was recored in a cabin up there), regardless of whether that listener is in the middle of Staten Island or is in a hut somvewhere on the Russian steppes. It opens with “Cobbled From Dust,” which sets the scene with its melancholic and realistic lyrics. Recovering from solemn songs like “Restoration” and “On The Line,” “Bobcat Goldwraith” is a loving little number with a balance of wind instruments and percussion.
Sometimes it’s nice to dip a toe into the water before jumping in. Thankfully, the first sound you hear on The Acorns’ latest effort, No Ghost, serves as a primer for what’s to come. Be careful when listening though. While those acoustic guitar notes tumbling down on “Cobbled From Dust” come off as smooth, melodic and relaxing, the full song might inspire you to get up out of your chair and grab a hammer and nails.