Half-Handed Cloud As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-out in Our Members a Kind of Rebirth

[Asthmatic Kitty; 2010]

Styles: Can I use a descriptor I used in the review? Yeah? Okay: Playful. Also unabashed. Playful and unabashed indie-rock on Sufjan’s label, how does that hit ya?
Others: The Curtains… Bobby Trimble?

As an ex-member — by dint of my parents — of a, shall we say, smallish, some would even say cultish religion, the idea of a fey, scarf-donning, twee mo-fo threading yarns about Jesus, down to the most minute details, sounds about as appealing to me as a thorough _____ (insert your own disgusting probe-related indignity here).

However, like the best artists, Half-Handed Cloud’s John Ringhofer has consistently managed to cut through the clutter of my Christian-rock phobia, releasing songs and albums that cause me to Believe…in his talent. You get the feelin’ he’s simply expressing fascination with something he’s discovered, just as one of our underground brethren would with space-dub or the latest Morton Subotnick-alike synth album. He doesn’t pander, he doesn’t preach; he doesn’t even seem to care if you share his fascination. This is important to the equation.

Suffice to say, if Ringhofer were teaching at a local Bible Camp I probably wouldn’t attend, but I’d at least consider it, and I tend to seek out his art because its joyful innocence fascinates me more than the joyful innocence of, say, the rest of his mostly joyfully innocent flock. As sick I am of the convoluted idea of the contemporary, self-consciously quirky, slap-happy Christian artist (not to mention one that sounds so much, vocally, like Ben Gibbard), I can’t help but let my guard down with this guy. As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-out in Our Members a Kind of Rebirth is no different. It’s like that teacher I had in community college that made Japanese history not only interesting but all-engrossing; some teachers would elicit snores working with the material, or any material for that matter, but his passion for the subject facilitated me becoming interested.

But HOLD ON: What’s the new Half-Handed Cloud album like?, you ask. Well I’ll tell you: It’s mathy as all get-out, which seems an odd descriptor to attach to such a twee group of twinkers, but that’s one of the overriding elements. The synths hitch and jerk, the drums cut on a dime and stutter-stop-start constantly, and Ringhofer’s still, small voice makes sense of it all. It’s an insanely idiosyncratic sound, that of H-HC, and I’m not hearing much of a difference between this and the 46-songs-deep B-sides collection that came out last year. Strangely Jandek comes to mind, as he’s one of the few other artists I can think of where you hear his music and, if you’ve heard even a scrap of his stuff, you know it instantly. Same goes for Half-Handed.

Now that I’ve noted the distinctness of it all, allow me to reference The Curtains, great fellow Asthmatic Kitty-ists and former Deerhoof-ists I’ve reviewed for TMT in the past. The Curtains have/had a similarly tinny, tip-toe sound going for them. The difference is that Half-Handed Cloud have absolutely no patience for the standard tricks of the trade; they’re intentionally built to spill out triplets, pauses, and halting rhythms like a sludge tanker with a leak: nothing with even a resemblance to buildups or song sequences lasting more than 20 seconds. They dink/dunk around playfully, like a cat batting around a ball of yarn. The songs are short and snappy — make that extremely short and extremely snappy. This is Pink Flag with a lot more Pink, the short, 30-second bursts lending a twisted, short-attention-span appeal.

The lyrics? Ezekiel much? Joseph and the…Technicolor…Dreamcoat mu—? Okay, I don’t know what in GOD’S name this fellow is talking about. I’ve tried to glean the intentions behind Half-Handed Cloud before, and I’ve found it the equivalent of trying to find God in my own life: confusing, unsuccessful, frustrating, and of little consequence when all is said and done. When I can make sense of what he’s saying, I hear re-tellings of classic Bible stories, but the words are delivered in such a fashion that I trust Ringhofer not to step over the line with the preaching stuff. Talking about hymnals and strange rituals involving bread and wine is all well and good, just do me a solid and don’t read the Book of Genesis verbatim, alright brother John?

Links: Half-Handed Cloud - Asthmatic Kitty

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