There must be something in the water up in Canada. A succession of great albums have emerged from America’s northern neighbour in the last three years, although only Arcade Fire has translated critical acclaim into anything approaching commercial success.
Hailing from Ottawa, Ontario, The Acorn has released five EPs since forming in 2003. The steady, word-of-mouth recommendations about the quintet has established them as a band to watch, and they don’t disappoint with their debut full-length.
Released at the end of last year by the US independent label Paper Bag, Glory Hope Mountain finally gains an official UK release courtesy of those wonderful folks over at Bella Union. On the strength of being long-listed for the Polaris Prize (Canada’s equivalent of our Mercury Music Prize) and a slew of positive reviews in North America, the label is championing the Acorn as its latest ‘must have’ import.
The Acorn revolves around vocalist and lyricist Rolf Klausener, who has taken the opportunity to use the long-playing format to fashion a concept album about his mother. All of which is to be applauded, but concept albums are notorious for falling short by attempting to bend the music into a shape that will carry the lyrical narrative. It is to Klausener’s credit that he never falls into that trap over the course of the album.
Born in Honduras, Gloria Esperanza Montoya endured desperate times in her native country. Exposed to abuse, crippling poverty and natural disaster, she survived to build a new life in Montreal, Canada, although the journey was not without hardships of its own.
Klausener takes the bare bones of his mother’s story and fashions a suite of songs that are notable for their subtle musical and lyrical touches. The imagistic rendering of the Honduran countryside on the opening Hold Your Breath unfolds in time with the music, which starts with a fragile piano/vocal duet before the other instruments are gradually introduced as the song builds up to its stunning climax.
In common with North American peers such as Vampire Weekend, The Acorn employs indigenous musical styles to add new elements to its basic indie rock sound. The brilliant Flood, Pt. 1 breezes by on a rhythmic bed of percussion and handclaps, while on tracks such as Crooked Legs and Low Gravity the traditional Honduran folk music of the Garifuna people is an integral part of the music.
Unusual instrumentation is scattered throughout this album, with the distinctly non-rock banjo, marimba, viola and cello all cropping up at various points. At no point does this riot of musical inputs sound contrived, however, which is a criticism that can be certainly levelled at other bands pursuing a similar direction (Vampire Weekend take a bow).
Ironically, the album ends with its two most musically straightforward tracks. The acoustic simplicity of Flood, Pt. 2 and Lullaby (Mountain), the latter featuring a vocal from Ohbijou Casey Mecija, brings this highly impressive debut to a close on a devotional note that is entirely in keeping with its theme of triumph over adversity.