, the new album by The Acorn, is a study in modesty. Singer/songwriter Rolf Klausener and his bandmates from Ottawa are determined to keep it small. After 2007's Glory Hope Mountain
, a concept album about Klausener's Honduran-born mother and her struggle out of poverty, The Acorn have returned with a record that substitutes space for specificity.
Most of the songs on No Ghost
, begin with a single musical element; a delicate banjo here, a tentative acoustic guitar arpeggio there. The tempos are mid to slow, with hooks appearing only sparingly. When loud electric guitars enter the picture, most notably on the Chris Whitley-influenced, "I Made The Law," they are welcome, but it almost feels like someone's shouting in a library, your first impulse is to shush them.
The spiky, new wave-ish "Crossed Wires" is the album's catchiest tune, recalling XTC with its bouncy, melodic pop. But things turn quiet again with the meditative, classical guitar flourishes of "On The Line." There's nothing wrong with subtlety and silence, but there's a line that Klausener crosses with his wavery vocals that sometimes feels dispirited. There's a generic quality to the bands arrangements and instrumentation that feels flat. When the occasional world music accent is incorporated, it feels tacked on, like the horns, accordion and Soweto-style guitars of "Bobcat Goldwraith".
The title track borrows the opening guitar harmonics of Talking Heads' "I Zimbra," but lets that propulsive rhythm slip. There are many bright spots on the record just like this, where your expectations are raised by a wisp of melody, a strong groove, only to have it dissipate.
I listened to this album three times before I started to enjoy it, which is more attention than most will be able to spare. Klausener's lyrics are never less than literate and determinedly non-linear. It's hard to grab onto lines like, "Panda, Panda climb your tree/There's a life you live in spite of me." Or "Here it is against my belly/The sum of all your solid parts," or "Concentric circles signal dinnertime." But if you hang in there, you'll start to feel the pull of some kind of inner logic. Not knowing what Klausener's on about, doesn't mean one can't admire his stubbornness in not spelling it all out for you.
The Acorn are a band that seem blissfully unaware of current musical trends. Though they sound nothing alike, they remind me of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, in their willingness to risk sounding conventional for the sake of clarity. Still, a couple of big, sloppy hooks the next time around wouldn't hurt.
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The Acorn on Myspace