Monday, March 10, 2014

Album Review: Withered Hand - New Gods

Album Rating: B+
Given that the creation of music takes both time and application, it figures that the LPs bearing the longest lapses are often those which prove the most divergent. This clearly is of little issue to most receptive listeners, but there are occasional discs, such as Dan Willson's second as Withered Hand, which are so removed as to require adjustment. Surfacing back in 2009, Good News, the Edinburgh native's full-length bow was a true underground gem, attaining cult status through its combination of lo-fi gravitas and emotional rawness covering rejection, sexual frustration and even spirituality. Five years on, however, and the lustrous strum ushering in 'Horseshoe' affirms its follow-up to be a markedly different proposition.

In fact, whereas Good News was by most counts a folk album, New Gods' opening depicts a more polished, pop-based sound - an impression enhanced by a quick skim through its credits. Stocked with Eugene Kelly (The Vaselines), Stevie Jackson (Belle & Sebastian) and Pam Berry (Black Tambourine) among others, the tracklist contains many a nod to the Scottish scene from which he rose, yet moreover reads like a homage to past and present greats of the indie pop world. Relishing in the upbeat and the uptempo, 'Horseshoe' indeed is no false dawn, with the twee jangles of 'Black Tambourine,' the accordion-affected 'King of Hollywood' and the shameless anthemism of 'Fall Apart' bearing only the most tenuous resemblance to Willson's past works. This fresh turn may sound awkward upon initiation, but the depth and versatility in his writing ensures it comes off a treat; although it's not until a more pensive second half that the record truly comes into its own.

Projecting an air of comfort along with their inherent charm, the candid cuts which punctuate its back end lack the tortured underbelly so apparent on Good News, yet in their own reflective, understated ways achieve comparable splendour. 'Between Love and Ruin' and 'Not Alone,' for instance, receive a glorious boost from the phlanx of horns forming their melodic spine, while the title track's absent-minded "do-do-do-dododos" adds a dash of simplicity to what's arguably the collection's most touching number. Perhaps the most telling moment from a lyrical perspective, though, occurs in early highlight 'Love Over Desire' and its typically tailored muse "I put my hand in my pocket and forgot about the travel pussy / another flower on the coffin of monogamy." Humorous and expressive in equal measure, it encapsulates both the life Willson now leads and the altered mental state in which these songs were written, not to mention the wry way with words which make him and his sophomore such an endearing delight.


New Gods is released on 10 March.


1. Horseshoe
2. Black Tambourine
3. Love Our Desire
4. King of Hollywood
5. California
6. Fall Apart
7. Between True Love and Ruin
8. Life of Doubt
9. New Gods
10. Heart Heart
11. Not Alone

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