The Maple Trail
Cable Mount Warning
11 Track, LP (2012, Broken Stone Records)
Related: Belles Will Ring, The Maple Trail.
The Maple Trail’s third album Cable Mount Warning is a product visualised abroad and realised at home. The solo project of Belles Will Ring’s Aiden Roberts, the album was written over 18 months in the fragile terrain of New Zealand, the cityscape of New York City and his hometown of the Blue Mountains in NSW.
Eventually put to record in his home studio in Stanmore, Sydney, Cable Mount Warning ends up influenced by all these disparate realms; the autumnal air taken from his sleepy childhood home meeting the contemporary trends of the inner-city. Even the album’s germination takes on this arc of hometown boy to traveler to city dweller; collaborations with inner-west resident and Broken Stone Records’ label-mate Caitlin Park appearing fleetingly alongside the mixing credit of Belles bandmate Liam Judson. So while this is very much an Aiden Roberts production, it’s every part a record influenced by varied localities and personalities, one which has come together to form a vivid tapestry of sounds and inspirations.
Cable Mount Warning is a record with a stronghold in diversity, not just in the locales typed out in the press release, but in the various influences that take hold throughout the album. ‘Barking Dog & Swallow’, in particular, matches off Roberts’ Crosby-esque whisper to a trembling violin whine recalling the dense production of Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left; while ‘Shoulder Hits the Rain’ is even more blatant in its exploration of that sound, its sea of harmonised vocals awash with the aged spirit of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Outside the retrospective homage that dominates the record lies a more contemporary theme. The buoyant all-in romp of ‘The Crash’ sounds more like something from Toronto 2003 than Woodstock 1969, with trumpets and electric guitars fighting for the space behind Roberts’ restrained vocal. There are moments that recall alt-folk luminaries like Bright Eyes or M.Ward as well, but they’re scarcely there for long enough to be a distraction; the dynamics of each track almost always settling on more than one theme.
While The Maple Trail tends to be at their best when plying together layers of jaunty charm, the sparse touches of the album’s ballads aren’t without their appeal. Record opener ‘Captain Dies’ is as initially arresting a track as anything on the album despite its low energy dynamic, but it’s the more involved romps that leave the lasting impression. This play-off between the two sides of the band focuses unsettlingly around Roberts’ voice. While touching and sincere, it often feels like he’s holding back. This strained timbre works on a track like ‘The World is Strange’, where the repeated call to “let it die” wrenches with its hesitance. And yet when the band gets involved for those high energy highlights, it can almost feel like he’s the unwilling host of a party gone astray; his relaxed hums lost in front of the walls of mariachi horns on ‘The Dinosaur Hunters’.
Cable Mount Warning is a wide-reaching take on the blurry boundaries of contemporary folk, capably resting on both the genre’s traditional roots and the directions it took ever since. It’s the kind of record that countless local folk acts have tried and failed to make.
by Max Easton