It would be very easy to listen to No Ghost and suggest that The Acorn belong to a breed of post-Grizzly Bear/Fleet Foxes thoughtfully tempered harmony-gifted indie-folk. That would be without the benefit a sufficiently far-reaching hindsight though. The eclectic meditative folk of The Acorn's 2007 concept-album Glory Hope Mountain precedes labelmates Fleet Foxes' debut by a year, but it doesn't do any harm to suggest that fans of the latter band will appreciate the gorgeous wavering harmonies of folk-rock opener 'Cobbled From Dust'. There are also interesting parallels with Grizzly Bear, vocally but more pertinently in the back-stories of each albums' creation/recording and the way the location seeps into the character of the songs. As Grizzly Bear convened at an isolated house in Cape Cod to record Veckatimest, so The Acorn isolated themselves at a cottage in the heavily forested Northern Quebec. This sense of isolation is palpable in both records, but where Veckatimest's peaceful surroundings take form in the delicate craft and painstaking construction of each song, 'No Ghost' evokes a greater sense of escape, like the reigns have been let loose.
This may be partly due a weight of emotional investment being lifted in comparison with the highly personal source of inspiration behind Glory Hope Mountain. The thumping tribals beats and brass refrains of 'Bobcat Goldwraith' virtually cartwheel with the energy and enthusiasm of the comedian who inspired it, although not, it must be said. with quite the same degree of derangement. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0qAfWWQJ5w) 'Crossed Wires' pulsates with urgency, all fuzz bass and Neutral Milk Hotel-style distorted acoustic strumming, relentless in it's propulsion, but with gorgeous melodic changes that render any dramatic changes wholly unnecessary.
There are few musical surprises afoot on No Ghost. 'Cobbled From Dust' features a layer of electronic feedback, but it feels no more incongruous amongst the predominantly organic elements than does the squalls of guitar feedback. The Acorn's sound is one which a decade into the noughties is one which is pretty standard fare for North-American indie types being a familiar blend of chamber-tinged indie-rock, folk and Americana. The fleet (foxes) footed fingerpicking and pitter-pattering sticks of 'Restoration' leave it sounding like a song you've already heard numerous times in your life, but the song swells in so subtle and elusive a manner, it matter little that it fails to push any boundaries. Particularly pleasing are the somewhat perversely upbeat harmonies backing the lines "After all the hair falls from your head, and the heart attack's been sleeping your bed." Of those aforementioned comparisons, 'Misplaced' shares the tentative feel of Veckatimest most stripped back moments, but the frequent pauses in the acoustic strums are utterly laid back as opposed to painstakingly measured and leaving space for Klausener to soothe with his fragile pipes.
Unlike its concept album predecessor, No Ghost has no obvious overarching theme, leaving the songs to stand up to greater scrutiny individually. Thankfully, the song quality rarely falters. The all too brief 'On the Line' is a aching ballad recalling 'Wichita Lineman', although in this instance the distant lover can be literally be heard on the telephone ("I can feel you on the line, two cents short of a another dime, simply calling makes two wrongs a right"), but the connection is almost not substantial enough to bear caller's love ("But the line seems to fall with the weight of us all"). Another pretty little ditty is the plaintive folk plod of 'Slippery When Wet', the fingerpicked guitar complimented by some rare violin, especially affecting when accompanying the mellifluous acoustic embellishments on the song's two short instrumental passages. Another track which, lyrically, suggests that Klausener may have had his heart stolen. Also lovestruck is the slightly more raucous title-track where violin makes another welcome appearance, but the most heart-stopping moment comes courtesy of a needling guitar stripping away the meat of the verses for the impatiently desirous chorus, "And the day stays afloat again, in the way of your open arms". The only really misstep The Acorn make is the hoary classic rock crunch which ruins the folky twang of 'I Made the Law', although in context of the album 'Almanac' is restrained to the point of being a little too ponderous.
Cynics might argue about the familiar sounds on No Ghost and may perhaps point to the absence of anything truly experimental like the West African rhythms of their previous albums. What they lack in originality, however, The Acorn make up for in non-pretentious songcraft; dynamic arrangements, affecting melodies and harmonies and tasteful production. One of the most understated and, in all likelihood, underrated gems of the year so far.
8Neil Ashman's Score