It’s rare to find a band that plays strictly one genre, but Accents is going for the genre-mashing gold with Growth and Squalor. The base sound is acoustic folk, but they rope in rock, post-rock, acoustic pop and more into their amalgam. There’s a lot going on, but for the most part it comes off well.
It’s easy to name this a folk album, because the far and away best track is “Storms,” an unassuming folk tune with gentle fingerpicking, an easily singable melody, and a simple arrangement. It’s almost certainly going to be on my Top 50 Songs of the Year list; it’s the sort of song that appears from nowhere, grabs you, and then returns you to the rest of the album while you wonder what just happened. The fact that “Storms” is a calm stream in an ocean of unrest that is the rest of the album only makes this impression more stark.
“Storms” doesn’t have any drums in it, and that’s a big reason it sounds different. The drum arrangements in these tunes mark them in interesting ways. Although opener “Divide” is fingerpicked like “Storms,” the acrobatic, tom-heavy drums press the tempo and import gravitas into the tune. “With the Light” introduces syncopated snare hits that bring to mind alt-country drumming. It pretty much sounds like Dave Grohl is behind the kit in the rocked-out “Routine Movements,” while the post-rock build of “Sorrow” is accompanied by a hammering rush of cymbals and bass drum.
The variety that the songwriting styles afford are a strength and weakness here: if you’re really into the pop-rock of “The Fog” or the chamber folk of “Way Out,” you won’t hear much like it for the rest of the album. But if you’re not into it, it won’t trouble you again, and you can get to the traditional folky bliss of “Storms” unimpeded. The album is pro-ADD. However, if you can take a wider look at Growth and Squalor, it does have a nice flow that stretches from the uncertainty of “Divide” to the thrash of “Sorrow” (which is its own kind of certainty).
Growth and Squalor by Accents is a fascinating album by a band with a great number of strengths. Instead of focusing on one strength, they give each its moment in the sun. This creates a unique listening experience, but I’m uncertain it’s one that they can (or even want to) repeat. This is a band jumping out of the starting gate, and doing it well. Here’s to the future of Accents.