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The Accidental

There Were Wolves

(Thrill Jockey; US: 3 Jun 2008; UK: 14 Apr 2008)

“Knock Knock”, the first song on the debut from indie-folk collective the Accidental, is misleading – it’s the only track on which Hannah Caughlin, from the Bicycle Thieves, takes lead vocals. Elsewhere, Tunng singer Sam Genders or Stephen Cracknell of the Memory Band or Liam Bailey provide the gloss for the group’s shanty-esque folk music. The Accidental doesn’t have Adem’s love of densely textured folk (though they can count him as a friend). The timbre on There Were Wolves is filled with acoustic guitars, occasional strings, and layered, blending voices.


In general, the Accidental’s songs are pitched right, not overly long so that they wander off into atmospheric waffle. Genders’ voice is brought forward in the mix and sounds pleasantly gravely. His Derbyshire accent certainly lends the music a gentle sense of wisdom. There’s a particularly Northern, covered melancholy to this music that’s entirely genuine. There are many artists, especially those in the general indie/folk axis, who go for this feeling, and it’s not always straightforward to sort out which music is just pleasant and which may continue to provide a soundtrack to peaceful reflection.


Of course there are many bands that make, generally, this kind of pastoral music – Amandine, the White Birch, Adem on his first disc – to name a few. I think also of a few Aussie groups: the Go-Betweens and, particularly, Sodastream. A couple of songs in the middle of the album have that group’s easy simplicity. These few tools – a syncopated rhythm on taut skin, or a repetitive violin figure over fire-crackle and piano—perfectly imagined in subtly revolving arcs, is all it takes. The production is clean and professional, allowing small gestures in the music to take on greater impact than if the electronic elements in the music were more prominent (as they are, say, on a Syd Matters record).


It’s impossible to resist some of these songs, why would you try? “Wolves” is a gentle piece imbued with subtle menace and a tad of melancholy. A lightly tapped machine provides breezy accompaniment, but it’s the dislocated, dream-like lyrics that hold you: “They drink their beer from plastic glasses ‘til they find the words to make the first move”. It’s a worthy successor to the song of the same name off Phosphorescent’s album from last year. “Jaw of a Whale” may be the album’s most memorable song, a litany of unusual dedications – “Here’s to the girl with the incremental eyes”, “One for the girl with the cold and the Kleenex”. Behind the sweet, round vocals, a cello and birdsong. He does mention “beautiful silence”, and you do understand what he means.


The album ends with a strange song (before two bonus tracks) that collects a bunch of clichés – “You are part of everything”, “To your own self be true”, “See what the morning brings” – and twists them into a melancholy expression as if to say, we’ve not got much more to impart than this. It’s a bit facile and a bit sweet. I’m still not sure which wins out.


In this strange, hushed music, with words that don’t rhyme and often take their imagery from mundane things like orange juice and suede shoes, the Accidental has crafted a truly beautiful set of songs. There Were Wolves won’t excite everyone. It’s understated and lacks the big hooks of more pop-oriented folk artists. But it’s still utterly captivating. I still listen to a few of those older albums – Sodastream’s Reservations, The White Birch’s Come Up for Air - often. I’m sure There Were Wolves will join them as favorites in the same group.

Rating:

Dan Raper has been writing about music for PopMatters since 2005. Prior to that he did the same thing for his college newspaper and for his school newspaper before that. Of course he also writes fiction, though his only published work is entitled "Gamma-secretase exists on the plasma membrane as an intact complex that accepts substrates and effects intramembrane cleavage". He is currently studying medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia.


Tagged as: accidental, the | tunng
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