Wednesday, July 28, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1492: The Acorn

My apologies for the delay in this review, gentle readers. I was off last week and I had fewer opportunities to get in the requisite listens to this album.

Disc 1492 is…. Heron Act

Artist: The Acorn

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? With the circular stitching, this looks a bit like a throw pillow you might find on a grandma’s couch. I got this record second hand, and much like that pillow at Grandma’s, it might have a stain or two. Not the couch, though. Grandma’s got that covered in plastic.

How I Came To Know It: I read about the Acorn on a list of obscure indie folk records I should check out. I think it was a Paste Magazine article. The album they were referencing was 2007’s “Glory Hope Mountain” which I liked and also led me to their other work. Like this one.

How It Stacks Up: “Heron Act” is a collection of live songs and as such, it can’t really stack up as a studio record.

Ratings: 2 stars

I thought I liked “Heron Act” and having searched for it for so long I must’ve forgotten how or why I wanted it in the first place. It turned out to be a bunch of live versions and demos. Which led me back to wondering why I wanted it in the first place.

Many listens in, this question remains unanswered. Seven of the ten tracks are songs I already have on and for the most part I prefer the studio versions. The entire experience left me feeling a bit foolish, with the taunts of Cake singing “how much do you pay for your rock and roll lifestyle?” echoing in my ears.

“Heron Act” is pretty enough, although generally I found the Acorn willing to take a pretty melody and fill in all the edges with a bit too much of this, that or the other. Drums roll, guitars trill, and various other sounds bounce about in your ears (or car) depending on the mode of listening. These songs could use a bit more stillness.

Singer Rolf Klausener has a light and pretty voice that naturally draws you in, but he doesn’t do anything spectacular enough for me to want to trade the repeated tracks from “Glory Hope Mountain” in for their live/demo cousins.

In fact, I’d rather talk about those seven songs when I review that record sometime down the line. Instead of ruining the joy of that discovery, let’s just focus on the three tunes I didn’t already have, shall we?

The first of these is “Brokered Heart,” which has all the busyness of the album in general but is even a bit more clamorous than usual. It also features some annoying wood clacker that made me think a kid was riding his bike by the recording session with a playing card in the spokes, or maybe that the tape had broken and was spinning in the player. Except I was listening on CD.

Dents” immediately follows, and this song is a damned pretty one, filled with lush lyrics like:

“I can see your years in my reflection,
Dents and cracks embedded in my skin
Maywood bloom in fireworks and fury
For all the times I didn't let you win.”

That are a bit overwrought, but beautiful nonetheless. I’m not 100% what the song is about, but it gave me a serious case of sad acceptance, and I enjoyed the wallow.

The final of the three “new” (to me) songs was a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Good Enough” which she recorded for the Goonies Soundtrack. Here’s a fun fact about me: I fucking hate that movie. Always have. I do not remember the original song at all. I expect this is because I dug Cyndi Lauper and would have had a hard time reconciling this with how I felt about the movie.

Anyway, once I read that it was a Cyndi Lauper song I went and listened to the original. Still didn’t ring a bell. It was OK, but it’s no “Time After Time.” If you judge the success of a cover with how different the new version is from the original, then Acorn’s rendition is a runaway winner. It is very different, as they take it from a boppy eighties movie hit to a slow and meandering indie folk tune.

As for me, I did not like the Acorn version. It starts out promising enough, but the drone of the string section (cello, I think?) is so high in the mix that it becomes oppressive. It made my car doors rattle and was only slightly less kind to my eardrums during a listen on headphones.

If you are a huge Acorn fan, then I can see “Heron Act” being a must-have record for you. It has a lot of your favourite tunes, and these versions are sufficiently different that you will revel in those differences. Kind of like how unabashed Blue Oyster Cult fans like me revel in the “no cowbell” demo of “(Don’t) Fear the Reaper.” It is awesome, but it helps if you were there from the beginning.

I was not there from the beginning for the Acorn, and I am a decidedly late bloomer. This could be why “Heron Act” failed to grab my attention, although it did remind me that I want to listen more to “Glory Hope Mountain” which is cool. Beyond that I think I’ll pass it along in the hopes it will find its way into the home of a superfan where it belongs.

Best tracks: Dents

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