Whist many of us remain highly sceptical about any band calling off a hiatus, 2015 is proving to be something of bumper years for bands reuniting and not screwing it all up! Whether they’ve been away for ages, such as Ride who’s recent show was their first in 20 years, or if you had barely noticed they’d even been on hiatus, like Justin Vernon who confirmed just days ago that Bon Iver are back (amazingly it’s been four years since their self-titled album), which is about three years longer than we thought it was.
Sleater Kinney confirmed they were reuniting at the back end of 2014 but it was only in 2015 that they shared No Cities To Love, their first new material in a decade; a period of time that was ever so slightly pipped by the twelve years Blur fans had to wait for their on-off reunion to finally produce an album, the much better than it had any real business being, The Magic Whip.
Shoegaze was rather unflatteringly known as “the scene that celebrates itself” but in the last few years it’s become the scene that realised it was about time they got back together and made the most of the current boom in popularity! My Bloody Valentine returned almost a decade ago, but with the return of Slowdive last year and Ride this year, finally the holy trinity of shoegaze is back together to take over the world! Well not actually take over the world, but you know stare at the ground and listen to a lot of feedback, none the less a lot of people seemed very excited about the prospect!
Of course it’s not all been good news; Mumford & Sons have proved that the banjoes weren’t the problem all along with the truly dreadful Wilder Mind, whilst we don’t want to worry anyone but a little band called Oasis are threatening to bury even further any good memories people have of their early work by once again hauling themselves onto the cash cow: fingers crossed that one doesn’t turn out to be true!
Back in 2007, when The Acorn released their sublime album, Glory Hope Mountain, it seemed briefly like Canada was on the verge of taking over the world. The success of the likes of Arcade Fire, The Dears, Broken Social Scene, even Hot Hot Heat seemed were part of an unstoppable deluge of quality acts from across the channel and North of the border, who were going to mark the beginning of a great musical dynasty. Sadly for Canada, and in particular The Acorn, it didn’t quite work out like that. Like so many musical trends it became the scene that ate itself; it wasn’t that the likes of Great Lake Swimmers, The Besnard Lakes and The Acorn weren’t great bands, it was just that by the time they were in the worlds view, the world was saturated with a barrage of slightly folkish Canadians.
Glory Hope Mountain was in fact one of the finest albums to come out of that particular scene. A beautifully melodic series of snapshots of group leader Rolf Klausener’s mothers life, from her troubled youth in Honduras through to her relocation to Canada, it was a moving tribute and a fine introduction to a rare musical talent, a band who infused their take on folk music with complex rhythms and Rolf’s hauntingly beautiful vocal. It was a sound they would replicate, perhaps a little too closely, on 2010’s No Ghost, then following its relative success the band pretty much stopped. Finding themselves spread across Canada, they have been on hiatus ever since.
Discussing the break, Rolf has been very open with regards to the disillusion he felt., admitting he’d lost perspective of where the music he made fitted into his life, Rolf found himself disconnected from the music he was making and was unsure where the project was going. So he took himself away from it all, as he puts it, “walked my ass to a cottage” and rummaging through the demos he’d made over the past four years, he rediscovered his love for the music of The Acorn, the results now available for us all to see if the shape of their new album Vieux Loup.
The Acorn have always been a band who meld constants with variables. The voice always the same fragile mellow delivery part Jose Gonzales part Peter Silberman of The Antlers, the percussion varied and ever evolving incorporating African influences and processed electronic drum machines, the omnipresent acoustic guitar, the rushes of different styles and instruments. It’s this battle between progress and stagnation that is at the heart of Vieux Loup, it’s an album that on one listen can feel like the comfortable blanket of The Acorn you already know and on the next feel like a band pushing themselves in exciting new directions. This battle is never better expressed than on the excellent In Silence (Enantiomers). It’s a track that begins life feeling comfortable, safe, the fluttering of a loan drum, a few gently arpeggiated chords, that voice that hasn’t changed one iota since Glory Hope Mountain eight years ago, but gradually it unfurls into something different and progressive; a gentle shaker comes and goes, synths swirl ominously in the background, the gentle tinkling of a piano, it never feels like a song that is settled, it’s always moving into new sonic territory, only held together by gentle rushes of percussion, his voice asking “why don’t you fall once in a while? Follow anything that you need to, your hands in the fire”, then with just a couple of bass notes for warning it explodes into a complex, jazzy blur of drums, a stunning rush of Do Make Say Think inspired jazzy-post-rock, its last for probably no more than ten seconds before it dissolves, the song returning to where it was, the sort of thrillingly brief moment in a song that you have to listen just to make sure you didn’t make it up. Enantiomers, molecules that are mirror images of one another but unable to super-impose themselves onto one another: a perfect analogy for both the relationship he appears to be describing and his own battles with The Acorn now and The Acorn then.
The most obvious signs of progress lie in the increased use of electronic influences; indeed at times there’s the hint of a band who could feasibly play out in the clubs. The album’s first single, Influence in particular is a slight remix away from sitting alongside Caribou or Gold Panda, complex rhythms, processed kick drums, heavy bass line, and the voice just floating on the top, it’s undeniably accessible and a huge step away from the days when they could reasonably called a folk act. Palm Springs too, with its slight psych tinge is undeniably poppy, everything about it is foreground, bright, loud and confident, the wistful washes of warm nostalgia seem, all be it briefly, to be a thing of the past. Cumin is proof that they are not, with a pulsing heartbeat of a drum, a gently lilting acoustic, and a rich heavily percussive sound it’s a song that’s a refinement of their previous work, hints of muted electronics sure, but it sounds unquestionably like The Acorn of old. It’s a testament to the quality of production, performance and crucially, consistency of songwriting that the album flows so well, for all the variety there’s something that holds it together and makes it the unquestionable success that it is.
The title track Vieux Loup is stunning. Starting with an echoing solo piano is briefly threatens to set off like a Nils Frahm, but as Rolf lets out an audible sigh, it’s true nature begins, the guitar floats in a gentle waltzing thing of beauty, the piano doesn’t disappear entirely though, it just becomes something different, echoing distant notes equal parts percussive and melodic, they add a stunning texture. It’s to the credit of the production that at no point do the dense layers of instrumentation sound muddied, each instrument finding its place in the mix and shining out crystal clear on their own. The vocal harmonies throughout are beautiful; the outro a Grizzley Bear inspired collection of oohs a reminder that harmony singing still has the ability to send shivers up the spine. Dominion is a masterclass in changing gears, a folky jangle of guitars that gently build, the mix swelling with tambourines, drums, pulses of bass, gradually it becomes a fully formed rich sound, the sort of huge wall of instrumentation more associated with Interpol or Nadine Shah and then suddenly it’s slow build is brought to a lurching halt, the sonic equivalent of an emergency stop, and equally heart-racing.
Lyrically, it perhaps lacks the cohesive fascination of Glory Hope Mountain or No Ghost. However, on the closing track Artefacts, Rolf briefly lets down his usually impenetrable facade and lets drops of story unfurl before you; it starts with a perfectly paired set of guitars, the electric a wash of high tremolo picking, the acoustic low, bassy and rhythmic, the percussion gently swells in and out, a mixture of sounds from bouncing toms to the rich woody notes, “I caught you sleeping in the middle of the night, with your hand on top of my belly, I didn’t have all the answers for what went right” he slowly whispers, joined by the gorgeous trilling of a bell piano, which adds further layers of percussion and melody, the vocal picks up slightly as he recalls how, “I watch your love float through the palace, couldn’t help but watch you wash away the past” there’s shades of The Antlers in its ability to feel emotive without spelling out the obvious pain of the situation. Like much of the bands work it can sound impenetrable but it’s more than worth the effort, Vieux Loup is a beautiful piece of music, and one that only seems to get better with time.
Vieux Loup is out June 1st via Paperbag Records.