Several things spring to mind when one thinks of veteran folk rockers Elliott Brood: steely acoustic guitar strums, banjos and lyrics that address more bygone Canadiana than a Pierre Berton book, with all of those lines sung in a twangy downhome delivery. What we fans of the Ontario alt-country troop don’t expect, however, is for its members to put out tracks like “Searching,” one of the highlights from their new album Ghost Gardens.
The minute-and-a-half song comes second last on this LP, and features distortion and whines akin to synthesizers, all of it evoking a short-circuiting vintage radio. It’s not electronica or overly avant-garde, though; acoustic string plucks are thrown in for good measure, along with samples of a few distraught fellows shouting in the background.
It’s an experimental detour on a mostly downbeat, minimalistic folk album. This isn’t an entirely new, avant-garde foray, though; rather, “Searching,” and the other songs that make up Ghost Gardens, are unearthed demos that the band first started working on a decade and a half ago.
That means many of these songs are quintessential Brood. For instance: quaking mandolin notes and twangy guitar strums abound on closing track “For the Girl,” (which also features evocative lyrics like, “leave me here to blister away in the sun”). “The Widower” is even more traditional, featuring waltz-y guitar and piano notes in the opening moments, followed by echoing vocals, all of it amounting to one of the most gorgeously melancholy tracks of the band’s career. Then there’s the threadbare and forlorn “Adeline,” a winner thanks to its minimal banjo and piano backing. What really puts that track over, though, is its childlike lyrics and delivery, which make it adorably moving. It’s a folk lullaby that’ll tug the heartstrings of fans from any generation.
Don’t worry though: Ghost Gardens is not an overly downcast affair, and its softer numbers are balanced by bawdier tracks like the rockabilly-esque “‘Til the Sun Comes Up Again,” and the sing-along worthy “Dig a Little Hole.” Those peppier songs, along with its quieter moments, make Ghost Gardens a well-rounded release, meaning fans of both Elliott Brood and of folk in general will love every gorgeously crafted second of this new LP. (Paper Bag)