Amandine Solace in Sore Hands

[FatCat; 2007]

Styles: indie folk, alt country, indie Americana
Others: Songs: Ohia, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Iron & Wine

Just when I think spring is coming to wipe my winter doldrums away, an album like Solace in Sore Hands lands in my CD tray to remind me that sadness is an emotion bound to no particular season. While this might be considered a negative by some, for those moved most by the plaintive folky leanings of a Jason Molina or Will Oldham, this ability to convey desolation and desperation is nothing short of miraculous. The fact that the tender ache apparent in Olof Gidlöf's voice alone is enough to bring tears to the eyes of the attuned listener means Amandine are well-positioned to make alt country fans swoon.

Sparsely arranged across the board, songs like "Faintest of Sparks" and "Iron Wings" are true exercises in understated instrumentation, guarding the songs like precious secrets so they will only reveal their charm upon multiple close listens. Other tracks, for example "Chores of the Heart" and "New Morning," start small and contained, building subtlety and swelling with emotion by their conclusions. The array of instruments used to achieve these effects is impressive in itself, including banjo, trumpet, and violin in addition to the usual suspects of guitar, bass, drums.

And yet, there's something that keeps me from finding this as compelling as I would expect it to be. It may be that this intimate, frail brand of indie folk has been done so well in recent years that I am becoming somewhat immune to it. Or possibly I'm chafed by its hampering of my emergence from the throes of seasonal affective disorder. Whatever the ultimate culprit, the sum of the album is overshadowed by its parts, which seem more impressive when I consider them each in some sort of isolation. Then again, I won't be surprised if this all makes more sense to me come next December...

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