The Potomac Accord: In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten

The Potomac Accord: In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten (First Flight)
I don’t know about you, but I think every metropolitan music scene needs at least one moody, piano-centric, shoegazing, cinema-loving, conceptually vague, perspiring, aspiring, sometimes haunting, sometimes boring bunch of methodical musical introverts. Not all cities have such a thing, but I’m really glad that St. Louis does. They’re called The Potomac Accord, and I find their creative aesthetic—whatever it is—quite compelling. For one thing, it’s stark, right down to the cover art: their first album depicted a bleak, overcast day at the ocean; their new one, In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten, features an off-green pattern that looks like the tablecloth used when no guests are coming over or the neighbor’s curtain that’s drawn most of the time.

I could be wrong, but I think The Potomac Accord’s curtains are indeed pulled most of the time. This is an introspective, sort of mysterious group, and they don’t get much publicity. They don’t even play live that often. But hey, if you needed someone to score your film, especially one with a lot of slowly shifting, unsettling images, these guys should be on your shortlist to call. Their music is very cinematic, and Andrew Benn (piano, vocals, guitar) knows his way around a piano—both the white keys and the black keys. He plays majestic chords, chords that rise and fall, chords that march forward in a stately manner, gain in intensity, and drop back. There is enormous assurance in Benn’s playing, and he’s an utter master of the art of repetition with slight variations. This can be tedious, of course, as Benn is content to sustain the melancholy mood here for quite a long time.

So it’s a good thing that founding member Jerry Green is there to play some precise, crisply recorded percussion and occasionally rock things up a bit. New bass player Michael Lorenz and violinist Samantha Bendet are also there to add diversity to the textures. But musically speaking, this is mostly Benn’s show, and he sings on nearly all the tracks. Benn has a gentle if unremarkable voice; he delivers lyrics with pretty much the same confidence with which he plays. Sometimes the emotionality of his vocals lures you in deeper, and sometimes, honestly, it simply grates. Whether it limits the commercial potential of The Potomac Accord is debatable, but I give this band the benefit of the doubt because they sound like no one else around here, and I’d rather have a band aspiring to heights of contemplative beauty and getting there at least half the time than a bunch of smug rockers who might be more charismatic or crowd-pleasing. Also, their work is exceptionally well recorded and mastered.

TPA tends to be most memorable in moments: the spooked finale on opener “A Quiet White Cut by the Longest Blue Shadows” (love your titles, guys), on which Benn repeatedly whispers “I will swallow you”; Benn’s absolutely exquisite playing coming out of a crescendo at the seven-minute mark in “Sunset on the Empire” (wonderful bass playing there, too); the way the drums swoop in briefly on the hauntingly sad little tune “Some Kind of Farewell Forever”—a piece where the Potomac Accord is almost worthy of being called an American version of Iceland’s sublime Sigur Rós; and the evocative, hymn-like breaks between the singing on “Ghost of Kalamazoo” (although the vocal itself on this track shows that Benn is no Thom Yorke, which he’d almost have to be to achieve the kind of grandeur he’s shooting for here). The band really stretches out on the 11-minute-plus “Newly Fallen Century,” which is sheer crunchy melancholic goodness and maybe the closest a local act has come to producing something on par with Bends-era Radiohead, with even an OK Computer–like moment or two. High praise, I know, but this band aims high, and in certain moments, you can really feel that surge as they push, push a little harder…and just about get there. They may be a little overindulgent, but I like The Potomac Accord very much and find their seriousness of purpose and shadowy presentation rather compelling. On the basis of their two recordings so far, I’d put them on any list of unique St. Louis bands that I’d want my out-of-state music-loving friends to hear.

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