Posted by: Johnny Loftus on May 27, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The Accidental, There Were Wolves (Thrill Jockey, 2008)

Listen: “The Closer I Am”

Plaintive acoustic guitars, the calls of sea birds, gentle loops and programming, and the hushed vocals of a guy who sometimes sounds like Peter Gabriel: that’s the Accidental on “Jaw of a Whale.” But that description might also summarize There Were Wolves, the debut full-length from this collective of musicians you may have heard of. Led by the vocals of Sam Genders (Tunng), the Accidental also includes Stephan Cracknell (Memory Band), Hannah Caughlin (of the indie folk/twee outfit Bicycle Thieves) and singer-songwriter Liam Bailey. The recombination of electronic and acoustic elements lies at the heart of Genders and Cracknell’s work with Tunng and Memory Band, so it’s not a surprise for that sound to inform There Were Wolves. What’s striking is how little they and their collaborators do with it. “The Closer I Am” finds a rhythm in the slightest percussive tick, and Genders’ soft singing meshes nicely with Caughlin’s vocal. As the song continues, voices from all of the Accidental layer over one another, and it’s a moment that looks endearingly backward at the 1960s English folk scene. But it does little else. It’s wonderful that these artists have found one another, and have made a record that explores a stylistic common ground. But why didn’t they push it further? There’s beauty at ever turn in Wolves, just as some of the skeletal arrangements they’ve come up with conjure black smoke when blended with the right touch on the mic. But the entire thing is so tentative, you wonder whether these people were more concerned about offending each other’s sensibilities than using their talents and interests to make a consistently rewarding record. Types who are down with electronicized indie stuff (Four Tet, Notwist; yes, Tunng), the Accidental is for you. Everyone else, wait for the undoubtedly more lively remixes. — Johnny Loftus

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