Monday, 20 October 2008

Album Review: The Acorn - 'Glory Hope Mountain' released 20/10

See original article published here.

Sufjan Stevens once tried to write fifty albums, one for every American state. If he’d taken the melodic warmth of his songwriting further afield, to the colourful coasts of Central America, the result may have been something like this. A blend of familiar North American folk and something a little more foreign and tribal, Glory Hope Mountain manages to expound a musical narrative that is extraordinarily descriptive. It was written as frontman and vocalist Rolf Klausener’s tribute to his mother, Gloria Eperanza Montoya (the title of the album is a rough translation of her name), who fled an abusive childhood in Honduras, journeying to Canada to forge a new life.

But Glory Hope Mountain is more than a biographical exercise. A careful ear can hear the chronicled threads of a life caught between cultures and journeying far from home, yet beyond Klausener’s descriptive intentions this LP introduces a vital and diverse musical mind. Each track is an accomplished and carefully realised whole, brought to life through diverse ethnic instrumentation that gives The Acorn’s music a rare vividness and colour, setting it apart from the work of contemporaries in the vein of experimental folk.

Klausener’s music manages to be subtly upbeat without ever straying into the territory of the twee. Clever, poetic lyrics anchor the songs on the right side of comfortingly melodic. Opener ‘Hold Your Breath’ is sparsely orchestrated, telling of a birth, before slipping with a delicious thud into a pulsating, forward facing rhythm during verses. Punctuated mid-track by a beautifully upwards-leading instrumental bridge that feeds into a clattering guitar led outro, it is the perfect introduction to an album that is by shades epic and unrelentingly energetic, such as in ‘Low Gravity’, and at other times unhurried and soulfully down-tempo, as in ‘Flood Pt. 2’.

The foreign influences of the album, inherent and indelible underneath every track, become especially evident in the vocal accompaniment and steady calypso chug of ‘Flood’, a song that sounds so organic it could have climbed, tinkering and rattling, from the branches of trees. ‘Oh Napoleon’ is mesmerisingly woeful, with its rocking, descending guitar riff and lyrics you can disappear into: ‘Talk about your peace of mind/The one I found so hard to find.’

There are weaker moments. ‘Sister Margaret’ is overdubbed by spoken sampling that is barely audible, and never breaks into song, so that it kind of drifts instrumentally, acting as album filler of less memorable quality. Meanwhile ‘Antenna’ starts with radio white noise that leads into uncharacteristically bland songwriting. But with the fragile, wavering double female vocal of ‘Lullaby (Mountain)’, Glory Hope Mountain ends, leaving the listener lost in the mountains and rivers of aural landscapes, handcrafted with painstaking and seamless detail. Though by no means a perfect effort, this critically lauded LP from Krausener and co. nonetheless introduces a profound and expansive folk-writing talent, combining traditional, contemporary and foreign influences that are married with new vibrancy by this Canadian collective.

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