If nothing else, Michigan’s Accidentals are a stunning example of how hard work and innovation can still elevate an up-and-coming band in an era of social media pandering and streaming services with abominable royalty payouts. The genre-less band has spent the past five years honing their craft on a grassroots level, catering to local audiences from their home-base of Traverse City throughout nearly the entirety of the United States. The result has seen them transform from a small-time roots duo still in high school into the evocative songwriters and thrilling performers that the now three-piece band is today.
Along the way, Savannah Buist, Katie Larson, and Michael Dause have garnered the acclaim of established acts ranging from Dawes to the Wailers and has even seen them sharing the stage with songwriting royalty like Joan Baez and, arguably, Martin Sexton. All of this has been mostly on riding the wave of applause that their last album, Bittersweet, brought them throughout their years-long tour, alongside the sudden mass appeal of their single “Michigan and Again”. That brought the three 20-something singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists to the attention of Sony Masterworks, who recently signed the band to a distribution deal on their much-awaited third full-length LP.
The LP in question is Odyssey, fittingly titled not only given the map that the band is posing in front of on the album cover or that its title is lifted from their latest single. Right away with that titular “Odyssey”, longtime listeners of the Accidentals will recognize the rich production present on the record. Lush, multi-layered sound engineering has allowed the band’s blend of influences to be heard much more clearly. Considering that within Odyssey, these influences range from grungy bass plucking to string ensembles that delve into the baroque, brilliant newgrass melodies in the minor key, hip-hop backbeats, funk-ridden riffs, and even brushes with electronic vocalizers, the pristine level of quality present from a pure sound aspect is first to make all of the difference on the band’s newest studio output.
The band’s evolution as a whole is entirely present on Odyssey, and arguably for the first time. Though Bittersweet proved to be an album beyond Buist and Larson’s years when they had cut it freshly out of high school—especially lyrically, given its reflections on war, the afterlife, and miso soup—Odyssey is a celebration of how far the band has advanced in every possible way since the former’s 2013 release. The sheer, seamless blend of musical styles that they invoke into the new record is impressive in itself, and Dause adds much to the band’s backend as their drummer. Furthermore, they continue their ascension from a lyrical progression as well, dealing less with hypothetical stories and singalongs and more with matured outlooks on the world and the philosophies that they’ve garnered from life experiences.
There are the occasional breaks for more “fun” songs on the record, like “Arizona Stars”, which is centered around a Buist family vacation to the titular state that the violinist only began to appreciate when reflecting on its night skies, or “KW”, the incredibly funky first single shining the light on their work with Keller Williams, who offers his corybantic guitar to the track. All in all, though, Odyssey offers a looking glass into deeper subjects as interpreted by Buist and Larson across the majority of its 13 tracks.
A prime example of this is should-be single “Earthbound”, which features a bit of the aforementioned electronic influences on it to emulate an outer-space vibe before it builds into a rock-laden chorus. The song has been said by Buist to be about “being real and removing the stigma from mental processing because we all do it a little bit differently”. Larson’s songwriting, in particular, soars throughout the handful of tracks that she’s self-penned on Odyssey, as well. This ranges from the earnest, nostalgic look back present throughout the build-up of her ballad, “Nightlife”—which really skyrockets across its bridge—to the faster-paced blues and funk of the Poe-sort-of-inspired “The Sound a Watch Makes When Enveloped in Cotton”. It’s safe to say that she’s come a long way herself since the days of Tangled Red and Blue.
The band also produces their first foray into composing a purely instrumental track with guitar virtuoso Kaki King on the album’s closer, “Ballad Tendered Gun”. Together with King, the Accidentals perform a luscious, ever-changing composition with a focus on equal parts violin, cello, and guitar, towing the line between classical and new age in between compelling shifts in pace that tell a story without words. Odyssey also features guest work courtesy of the Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee. Offering her craft at the keyboard to tracks like “Crows Feet”, Conlee adds an emotive, serene, and sympathetic touch to the band’s body of work that feels like anything but extra.
On Odyssey, the Accidentals finally put all of the experiences they’ve gained over four years of consecutive touring throughout the States—and soon to be, Canada—onto a studio-recorded album. Fans had a small taste of this in their previous Parking Lot EP, but with the backing of a major label behind them on the coming leg of their Odyssey tour, this will mark the most important next step in their budding careers. Hopefully, that step will produce as vast and encompassing of a sound as their latest album.
// Notes from the Road
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