Simon Jay Catling
, June 8th, 2010 07:46
As a moving tribute to the life of his Honduran-born mother Gloria Esperanza Montoya's, 2008's Glory Hope Mountain came across as Rolf Klaussner's personal Everest. The Acorn's chief songwriter led listeners through biographic tales of flood survival, step-father abuse and eventual escape to pastures new in America, delivering each with an understated but earnest adoration for the woman that had brought him into the world. So where else to go but descend from the peak? No Ghost finds both Klaussner and his band retreating to safer ground; some of the passion is stripped away amidst more hum drum narrative issues of love and self-reflection. Musically, the band take their leave of Glory Hope Mountain's refreshingly indigenous-leaning rhythmical structure in lieu of more conventional folk rock patter.
Not that the path onwards from a concept album is the easiest to make out. History is littered with those who put their all into going out on a limb for one album, only to find themselves scratching their heads about what to do once they reached their journey's end. From The Kinks deciding to carry on stumbling through conceptual limbo in the wake of the Village Green Preservation Society, to Neutral Milk Hotel's decision to simply not follow up In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, "where to go next?" isn't the easiest question to answer. No Ghost deserves credit then for safely managing to negotiate a safe return to base without falling into uninspiring folk pastiche, or indeed returning at all (I don't envy The Antlers trying to follow up Hospice.) A lot of this is down to Klaussner himself; though his tales of sexual love are less heart-achingly gripping than those of the familial, he possesses a voice that, particularly during the album's stripped back moments such as 'On The Line' and 'Slipper When Wet,' can still make you believe in the sincerity of absolutely everything he says. An artist's artist, in that he appears to believe that how you say something is of equal importance as to what you say, he conjectures both fragility and strength in both voice and lyric: "you've got to learn to play both sides, you've got to try to cross the wires" call-to-arms content matches its punchy delivery on 'Crossed Wires,' as does the delicacy of lines like "I spin and I spin, the tangle that I left you in" on the gentle ripples of 'Almanac.'
It's when the group decide to progress to more rumbustious moments that things become less convincing. Since Grizzly Bear pretty much perfected the balance of folk-based texture construction and human warmth on last year's Veckatimest, it's become de rigueur for any self-respecting acoustic-based band with a tale to tell to employ similar tactics and methodically layer strings, woodwind and ivories to create an "organic" growth of sound. Much like the post-rock of the early to mid years of the past decade, it's technically impressive, but trying to split apart the genuinely creative from the pastiche is proving harder and harder to do. The Acorn certainly aren't copyists - their previous track record alone dismisses that notion - but there are times, during the otherwise rousing locomotive clatter of 'Restoration' and the wailing crescendos of 'Bobcat Goldwraith' especially, where you ponder whether you've heard this sort of heart on sleeve conglomerate of guitars, brass and collective vocalisation rather a lot of late. They're not unenjoyable tracks, but then they're not strikingly different from the rest of even their own label's roster. Maybe that's being harsh though, and the amplified moments here can hit the heart as strongly as the hushed tones of reflection- note particularly the title track's thorny opening and verse starting to sink, only to return again with almighty string-led exuberance, an upward trajectory that swells with joy on every bar of four.
Having ascended literal Everest, Edmund Hillary claimed that the most excitement came "when we got to the bottom and it was all behind us"; within No Ghost there certainly lies a sense of Klaussner eagerly moving on, and as descents goes this is a largely safe one, but you can't help but hope he'll attempt to climb another peak soon.