Bella Union’s pastoral Canadians The Acorn had quite an act to follow after the 2007′s Glory Hope Mountain. Something of a concept album, it told of the early life of singer and lyricist Rolf Klausener’s Central American-born mother, and was greeted with equal parts admiration and critical acclaim. For its follow-up they retreated to a deserted cottage in Quebec for the early part of the writing and recording process, reconnecting with the countryside that has always informed their music, after two years of touring.
And this is, indeed, an album steeped in nature. References to the weather abound: “the clouds above your head”; “tidal waves”; “the wind on my dunes”. Animals too are frequent visitors – vultures, worms, pandas. Bobcat Gold Wraith opens with the found-sound chirrups of creatures in the night.
The music is chiefly the bucolic and gentle rock inflected folk of before. Occasional electronic touches, as with the synthesiser squeals on Cobbled From Dust, prevent the sound becoming too staid or one-dimensional. Gentle tracks like the sparse, unornamented Misplaced, On The Line and Slippery When Wet slide by pleasurably enough, but it is those where the intensity builds – Cobbled From Dust, Restoration, Bobcat Gold Wraith – that prove most uplifting.
There doesn’t seem to be a distinct theme this time round. Alongside the nature references there is much mention of romance, love and lust. I Made The Law, reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac‘s The Chain, is full of desire and frustration. This is found in both the lyrics – “kept my mouth from kissing you” – and in the almost angry sounding music. Happier is the animated, brass-tinged Bobcat Gold Wraith, with its discovery “I found out all I needed was you”. Slippery When Wet includes a warm, intimate vocal delivery and a lovely metaphor for a failing love: “…the love I thought we had / The tired tread that slips when wet”. Almanac is sultry, all “fever on your breast” and spending “all your days just waiting for the night”.
A few incongruous allusions to other bands’ tracks are tucked away in amongst the music, whether by accident or design. Misplaced mentions the “dark side of the moon” (Pink Floyd), Bobcat Gold Wraith references “smoke on the water” (Deep Purple), and the title of Slippery When Wet doubles as a Bon Jovi album name.
Klausener’s singing voice is pleasing and mellifluous, imbuing his songs with genuine-sounding warmth, depth and emotion. It is best showcased on Slippery When Wet, one of the album’s outstanding tracks. Other highlights are the opener Cobbled From Dust and the gentle, harmonious On The Line, which features a lovely bit of harp and what sounds like a bowed saw. Of the lesser tracks Crossed Wires and No Ghost, perhaps the worst that could be said is that they are a little nondescript.
Taken in its totality, however, No Ghost never quite scales the heights of its predecessor. As a gentle pleasure it will certainly gain supporters and friends, without ever, quite, inspiring a more maniacal devotion.