Half-Handed Cloud- Halos & Lassos

By Stephen Paulin

Published on Monday, April 24, 2006

Most people will listen to Half-Handed Cloud and not be able to see past the overbearing Christian lyrics that are constantly showing God’s glory and the faults of the devil. But if you do ignore that behind it you will find brilliant pop songs that sound as if they were written by someone with serious ADHD. The 30 minute record contains 19 tracks so John Ringhoefer doesn’t spend long on the one song before moving on to another part of his wonderfully unique pop music.

The comparisons between Half-Handed Cloud and labelmate Sufjan Stevens are easy to see, the indie folk-pop music, the Christian lyrics, the quirky style and the unusual song titles. But Half-Handed Cloud’s main flaw relative to Sufjan Stevens is that he is being far too obvious with his Christian lyrics, whereas for Sufjan Stevens the Christian element usually comes second to his amazing songwriting.

The album opens with the straightforward beat, plucked guitars and upbeat keyboards of Earth Outside of Ghost Will Only Be Quicksand. This is an excellent introduction to the album and sets the scene for whats to follow, upbeat songs, fast drum machine rhythms and sugar coated multi layered singing from Ringhoefer and others. With none of the songs breaking the 3 minute mark its suprising how cute the songs are made in such a short time, mainly due to Ringhoefer’s high pitched, almost cartoonish voice on songs like In You Now, But Still Below and Tongues That Possess the Earth Instead. Due to the shortness of the songs and the lack of gaps in between songs it can be hard to tell when one song ends and another begins. For instance in Foot on the Brake there are a couple of tempo changes throughout and to a casual listener it could sound like a different song starts about 30 seconds into the song. Following this is the very fast A Suit of Clouds to Ride the Skies which contains some 1980s keyboards along side the bubbly vocals. Praise Awaits You opens with just a guitar, but instruments are added to the song during the seventy seconds that it lasts. The giddy drum machine that opens Rise to the Heavens on Evaporation instead of actual drumming adds to vocals in making the song as cute and quirky as possible, the effect is also the same in A Picnic Few Want to Attend, but with added ooooohs. Eyes Peeled is a very different track in comparison to the rest of the album as it starts with a acoustic guitar opening not far off one which you would hear from Elliott Smith, but soon Ringhoefer’s vocals are added with Casio beats and various other instruments. This is then followed by another fast tempo song with pre-programmed beats throughout, You Wouldn’t Embarrass Me, Would You? In this Ringhoefer’s vocals sound better as he sings the song with grace and doesn’t seem to concentrate as much on being as cute as possible. You’ve Been Faithful to Us Clouds is the longest song on the album and in this time numerous instruments have been managed to fit in, from the piano that opens the song to the actual drumming that is used around the halfway mark, doo-doos and ooohs are used still to make the song as sugercoated as possible. Skip The Rope begins with a slow rhythm and stays that way, it is quite an unusual song for this record because it doesn’t change from start to finish and is more of a traditional pop song. This is then followed up by a typical Half-Handed Cloud song, Celebrating Hearts Aligned with Christian lyrics, cartoonish vocals, several stops and starts and added background vocals with a variety of instruments. Once you’ve listened to the majority of the songs on this album it will become clear to you that there is very little variety of songs on the album, and this is one of its major flaws, for example if you are paying full attention to the album A Bed That Breathes with Him and Place Your Wind Against My Sails can sound very alike each other. The album winds down at the end with a few of the slower more relaxed songs on the album, unfortunately this doesn’t work well, and I feel that it should have been as upbeat at the end as it started.

Some may find this record too sugary and sweet to listen to, but it is a good record with ridiculously fun music to listen to. Half-Handed Cloud have shown some variety with fast and slow songs, as well as Eyes Peeled, showing that Ringhoefer has potential if he decides to experiment more with his music. Another problem with the record is that Ringhoefer needs to reduce the amount of Christian lyrics in the songs and try to make his message for everyone more subtle, like a certain Mr. Stevens.

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