Friday, March 14, 2014
REVIEW: Withered Hand - New Gods
Prior offerings from Withered Hand have tended to attract terms such as anti-folk. But on New Gods Willson and his band of contributors have emerged as an energetic, melodically clever pop band, merging the lyrical talents of a first class folk storyteller with clear-eyed observational skills with the the pace, tone and melodies of pop. There is wit, self-effacement, joy, loss, cries of the wounded loser, and tales of travels in America set over a Byrdsian jangle and Shins-level hooks. And I have to give extra points to a man who scores a deal with Slumberland Records for an album with a song named after the label boss' own band (Black Tambourine) and featuring that band's lead singer, Pam Berry, on the track. And Pam isn't the only notable to assist Willson with New Gods. He also received contributions from Eugene Kelly (The Vaselines, among other projects), King Creosote, Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit and members of Belle and Sebastian. The production is by the highly regarded Tony Doogan, whose other clients include Belle and Sebastian, The Delgados, Mogwai and Teenage Fanclub.
The album opens with the incredibly appealing "Horseshoe". I think it is one of the songs of the year, and since it is Willson's favorite of the set, I'll credit myself with good taste. The following track, the above-mentioned "Black Tambourine" is buoyant, sugary indie pop of the first order. At this point of my first run through the album, the thought occurred to me that this music was generating the same same sort of excitement in me as did James Mercer's first few albums as The Shins. The third song is the America-shaded "Love Over Desire", about the classic (and never-ending) struggle between love and desire. Then Withered Hand launches into rock mode with the fast-pace "King of Hollywood", a song that always makes me want to climb into a car and drive with the song on loud and the windows down.
The pace and volume finally slow for the reflective and dreamy "California". "Fall Apart" and "Between Love and Ruin" are note-perfect California guitar pop. Country rock shoulders back into the set with "Live of Doubt". The final three tracks, "New Gods", "Heart Heart and "Not Alone" take the listener on a bracing ride of reflection, joy and togetherness that quite appropriately has the feel of a well-deserved encore.
I suspect that you won't find many better indie rock albums this year; I know that I won't.
New Gods is out now via Slumberland Records in North America and FortunaPOP! in the UK/EU.
Slumberland (US/Canada label)
FortunaPOP! (UK/Euro label)