4 out of 5
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Produced by: Daniel C. Smith, John Ringhofer
Probably the best Half-Handed Cloud record is the first one you hear. The range of John Ringhofer’s toy piano sing-song jingles is mostly covered within the first handful of songs on any given record, but his cute vocal register and often oddly syncopated but catchy tunes are very digestible; an HHC album goes down pretty easy.
The next album, though, you’ll realize the shtick mostly remains the same, even if the inoffensiveness of the sound has proven quite extensible. So while I got significant listenings out of that initial record, thereafter I’ve enjoyed HHC, but haven’t necessarily had the need to revisit the material, or rather, one album mostly offers the same joys as the others.
And I’d say that mostly holds true on Ringhofer’s and crew’s third album, Thy Is a Word & Feet Need Lamps, but this is also when we get a slight shift in that John starts banging out some longer tracks – albums previously ran 20+ songs, but this one’s only 16! – and that encourages a greater sense of buildup and less reliance on cheeky effects than usual. So this sounds more like a band than ever before, while not at all sacrificing the cutesy head-bobbing vibe (and John’s high-pitched voice) that is HHC’s identity. The result is an album where you can actually stop to listen to some of the lyrics – religious-flecked parables or lessons, but not noxious to my unreligious self’s ears – and have time to get into the musicianship and composition. Those elements shouldn’t be surprising, given how many instruments are banged on on any given HHC disc, and that Ringhofer has managed to craft a lot of unique moments with them, but it’s been easier to consider that all as accidental, given the less-than-a-minute nature of many songs, whereas here, the interplay of guitar and drums and bass feels so much more purposeful.
You can still expect plenty of noise (many an instrument is credited), and the group has not abandoned the short form, but Thy Is a Word is moreso stitched together by it than reliant on it, making the album feel very whole and cohesive.