Glad Hearts’ The Oak and the Acorn is a fascinating album. The band has a bevy of ideas, but treats each of them cursorily. There are thirteen tracks on this debut, but the whole album can be listened to in under a half hour. The release seems like an ADD tour of a band more than a proper album, but it’s an incredibly interesting tour nonetheless.
Glad Hearts’ basic sound is that of a folk band idolizing Neutral Milk Hotel. From the nasally vocals to the peculiar instrumental songs to mega distortion on some tracks to kitchen-sink jams (in terms of number of instruments), there are shades of NMH all over this. I don’t know if that’s coincidental or a result of much listening to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but it’s there nonetheless.
And even that’s not all the experimentation Glad Hearts throws at their listeners. “Come July” features an ethereal percussion instrument in the background of a harmonica/acoustic guitar folk song. “I’m at Sea” is a thirty-second accordion spot that brings to mind Sufjan short tracks like “Let’s Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It” and “One Last “Whoo-hoo!” for the Pullman,” both of which are exactly what their titles entail. It leads directly into the buzzing, slightly apocalyptic “Tinderbox.” That’s directly followed by a tune so bass-heavy and strumtastic that it’s nearly folk-punk on the merits of the bass guitar work alone. Glad Hearts aren’t making standard folk tunes; they’re going for a specific vision.
And that specific vision is pretty well established. It’s not accomplished (they have a long way to go before all of these ideas become an album; see also Enjoy Your Rabbit by Sufjan Stevens), but they definitely set out a roadmap for where they’re going. My only disappointment in all of this is that the undisputed best track on this album has almost no experimentation whatsoever.”Nothing If We’re Not Moving” is a unadorned, delicate duet between a guy and a girl. There’s guitar, some dainty piano, and an underlying synthesizer for the majority of the tune, which makes it the most standard of almost any track here. And yet, it’s the only one that demands to be replayed on its own. The album as a whole is worthy of repeated listens, but “Nothing…” is the only track that you’re going to push the back button on when it’s finished the first time.
What does that mean for Glad Hearts? I don’t know. It could mean that their next album is going to be stripped down, now that they’ve got their studio fix. It could be an anomaly on the radar, and the delicate romanticism could disappear forever. It could mean the two extremes are going to meet in the middle somewhere. All I know for sure is that “Nothing If We’re Not Moving” is the prettiest track here, and the experimentation everywhere else is incredibly interesting (if not always incredibly successful).
Glad Hearts’ The Oak and the Acorn is not a plug-and-play album. You’ll have to listen to it a couple times and get used to it. But it has treasure in it if you want to look for it. I hear a lot of promise in Glad Hearts, and look forward to seeing them hone their sound more, however it is they do that.