The members of Red Wood Rising have packed a lot of musical references into their 13-song sophomore collection These Fires. While starting from a folk-rock base, they incorporate elements of timeless anthemic rock (opener “Idle Hands“), ’00s emo (the vocals), hot country (“Down the Old Road”), old-timey bluegrass (“Can’t Figure You Out”), and even smooth jazz (“Deep Within the Ground”). Horns appear throughout, most emphatically on the powerhouse tune “Mark of Cain” and the dramatic “Let Me Carry You.” In their kitchen-sink mentality, they echo bands like Accents that don’t let their way with an acoustic guitar get in the way of including any genre that comes to mind.
These Fires is a long album, and so splitting it in half is a meaningful exercise. The first half is brash, loud, and frenetic; the back half is quiet and chill–but still heavy on drama (“Burning Branches” brings back the anguish of Cain from the first half of the record). It’s tunes like the intimate fingerpicking “On Hold” that will hold the most interest for those of the acoustic persuasion; Isaac Herbert’s soaring, rock-oriented voice is tempered and calmed. If you’re into enthusiastic collections of tunes that don’t shy away from a soaring melody, a huge hook, a new idea (or seven), and interesting juxtapositions, go for Red Wood Rising’s These Fires.
Is folk a mindset or a sound or both? The answer Accents’ Tall Tales provides is a giant yes to all. The album is built out of fingerpicked guitar and emotive vocals, expanding from that foundation into genres like folk orchestra (jubilant opener “Hold Me Close”), indie rock (the pensive “Artist in Denial”), and even pop-punk (the impressive “I Wasn’t Looking for You”). Some tracks forsake the folk backdrop and just start out in other genres: the excellent, hopeful ’90s pop of “Reminders”; the anthemic Mumfordy folk of “England Awaits”; the noisy indie-rock-with-horns of “Heart in My Room.”
But even through all these genres, the album holds together excellently; it’s that folk mindset coming through. Accents decided that if you want everything, they can give it to you: guitar rock, orchestration, female vocals, male vocals, hushed songs, brash songs, catchy songs, thoughtful songs, big riffs, the whole nine yards. There’s a pipeline between pop-punk and folk-pop; Accents is the house band for that pipeline. This is a brilliant accomplishment that in lesser hands would be a disjointed mess. Tall Tales is very worth your time.
The video for Anne Marie Almedal’s “Winter Song” takes the title literally, placing Almedal in a snow-laden forest and having her wave her arms around a bunch. I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear the song out: it’s gorgeous.
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.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.