It’s rare that I’m sold on an album from the very first opening notes, but it would have been impossible to turn away from Benjamin Neudorf’s vocals on his band’s debut, Flora. Rich and deep, it emerges from the tentative opening notes full of force—standing in well-balanced contrast to a slow plucking that feels like it would be at home buried in a Barr Brother’s song.
The Assiniboine Forests is a Winnipeg trio, incorporating Tyson Priebe and Jyles Klassen into what was originally a songwriting project. The band seems to have instantly struck upon that staple woodland indie that marks so much Canadian folk. Sparse and yet full of life, there’s nothing flashy about Flora but the final effect proves to be far more evocative as a result of that restraint.
Neudorf’s scratchy baritone coaxes out the layers that give opener “The Bones” its soulful resonance. It’s a clever move—instantly intoxicating, the song irresistibly lulls you in even as it sets up the faster tracks that don’t quite evoke the same ambiance. The following seven songs play with that exchange between Neudorf’s raw voice and the deft notes and gentle rappings that sway in and out between breaths.
After a similar open, “The Lion” works itself up into a tight frenzy—giving life to Neudorf’s musing, “Maybe I should distract myself.” Meanwhile, the aptly named “The Contrast” teases out an array of soaring melodies that give Priebe and Klassen the stage and make the case that Neudorf’s voice sounds so good in part because the instrumentals know exactly what to pair it with.
In fact, after that performance it’s hard to ignore how underneath the vocals is an immersive blend of graceful interludes and creative finger-work. While “The Apology” sees Neudorf reach out with his voice, it’s impossible to miss the slides and springs of steel strings that reveal another facet of the performance as he and Priebe weave their two instruments together.
As “The Seasons” leaps into form at the album’s loudest, Flora gives the impression it too is coming alive after working its way through autumn and winter, shaking off the melancholy and cabin fever for a warm respite—an end result that’s mirrored in the build and fall of closer “The Callous,” which captures both the impassioned vocal solos and the hidden dance of notes that bring The Assiniboine Forests to life.
Top Tracks: “The Bones”; “The Callous”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)