The Potomac Accord, a piano-fired indie rock trio, has had a lifespan more recognizable to long-hibernating species of cicadas than most music groups. Having formed in 2000, the band played at home and abroad and released a few records in the early part of the decade — its most recent was in 2003. But now, after a years-long hiatus, some lineup shifts and an evaporated record deal, the band is ready to re-introduce itself as a gig-playing, record-making entity.
It only took fourteen years.
"We were well on our way to writing a third album when I moved to Chicago in 2006," says pianist and singer Andrew Benn. "When I moved back in 2009 we regrouped but didn't have any intention of reforming Potomac Accord."
After a few sessions with his old bandmates, Benn found that they were scratching at an old itch. "It just made sense to pick up where we left off."
Beams was recorded in 2015 with Jason McEntire at Sawhorse Studio, with some post-production by Glenn Burleigh, and the band hoped to release it on a local record label. When the label went bust, Benn says, the band briefly considered stepping away entirely. Ultimately, "we came to the conclusion that we did want to release it, because we were happy with the songs," he explains.
But once the record was complete, some personnel drama further threatened to scuttle the whole operation. "The bass player we recorded with quit, so we had to find a new bassist and relearn all that material," Benn says. "When we were getting to release the album properly, both our guitarist and our bassist quit. It takes some time for people to find their place in the group."
Having recorded Beams as a quartet, the band now operates happily as a trio, with drummer Jerry Green and bassist Joe Willis playing alongside Benn's piano and guitar. For Benn, who has helmed the band since 2000, it's a comfort to simply be able to play these songs with able and sympathetic musicians.
"At this point we're able to perform the music the way we want to," he says of the altered lineup.
So while the songs have been floating in the digital ether for some time, both on Spotify and Bandcamp, the Potomac Accord will release physical versions of the album on Thursday, October 19, at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Branch as part of the Not So Quiet! series.
The band reasserts itself with a bright, effervescent clatter on opening track "Bigger or Better" as a quick flurry of handclaps and glockenspiel gives way to insistent piano chords and big-sky guitar trails. The song is a snapshot of what Potomac Accord can do well — propulsive rhythms pushing smart melodic runs and Benn's vocals, which can lift from a warble to take full flight. A similar energy gives the track "Bounce" its, well, bounce: Benn's spry piano again takes the leading role, but the rhythm section's ability to shift the dynamic energy takes the mood from airy to florid.
For Benn, the band's first new recordings in more than a decade were a chance to tweak the Potomac Accord's sound. "The first two albums are really quiet at times, and it's not just in your face," he says.
Looking back at those early releases — 2001's Silver Line on a Black Sea and 2003's In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten — Benn sees a methodical, nearly post-rock element.
"They were tactful in their approach to the songs — we tried to analyze what every note meant and have quiet, meticulous parts," he says.
While the band is still artful and careful in its arrangements, Beams has a looseness to it that feels borne of natural interplay among the players. Benn says that looking backwards in his own musical development helped with inspiration.
"When we regrouped we started playing punk rock and the kind of music we loved when we were younger," he says. "I remember looking at my wall of records and CDs and thinking of records I hadn't listened to in 25 years — Fugazi, Slint, June of 44, Rodan."
All that time with the formative albums of their youth helped, Benn says. "That's where the sound is a little louder or more confident."
Benn points to the album's longest, most brooding song, "The Rendering," as the track that signals a renewed and viable future for the Potomac Accord. Its opening lines hint at the comforts of the familiar (he sings "In this town where I was born / Everybody knows your face"), but what follows isn't exactly the theme song from Cheers. Benn views the song as his own personal reckoning with coming back to St. Louis and seeking satisfaction in the music Potomac Accord made in the early 2000s — without simply retreading the past.
"It's a song about being OK with picking up where we left off and growing as musicians, as musical mates," says Benn. "It was something we had worked so hard on for so many years, and we didn't want to let it go."