Think of it as a "what if" album: What if the Olivia Tremor Control made folk music? Or if the Polyphonic Spree made Christian-tinged psych-folk?
Those "what ifs" about describe the sound of Half-Handed Cloud's third album, a slightly skewed but very charming collection of psych-folkpop. For an album with acidic instrumental interludes and perky Biblical titles, "Thy is a Word and Feet Need Lamps" is a remarkably unpretentious collection.
It opens with a horns-and-piano pop melody, which announces cheerily "Thy is a word/and feet need lamps/bite for your horseshoe/and light for your toes." No, I don't know why feet need to be lit up, but it doesn't really matter. It's a sweet little song, and is followed by similarly upbeat pop melodies, which straddle the line between nonsensical Christian pop and twee psych-pop.
But sprinkled between these cheery songs are... even shorter songs, usually experimental and under a minute and a half. Some are instrumental, like the densely swooning "Mud." And others have frontman John Ringhofer singing hurried ditties about "adorable bunions. During these short songs, usually a violin is slowly strangled, a tambourine takes over the song, or other little quirks.
It resembles the Polyphonic Spree when a chorus strikes in, and Olivia Tremor Control with its short, semi-experimental songs. But in truth, Half-Handed Cloud doesn't sound like either band -- instead, it sounds like a folky, twee little journey with a wholesome edge that doesn't choke you.
Multi-instrumental Ringhofer sounds a bit like Colin Meloy, though more melodious. He also contributes a lot to the unique music here, which can be both lush and sparse. Sometimes the instrumentation shrinks down to one tambourine, and at others it's as thick and rich as garden soil. Horns, cello, sax and many others add extra flavour to the folk-pop sound, and Sufjan Stevens contributes his drums.
It's easy to be scared away by the label of Christian lyrics, since that usually means heavy-handed fluff pop. But Ringhofer's music avoids the usual pitfalls -- he merely mentions things like Moses, concubines, the twelve tribes of Israel, and that semi-amusing story about Noah getting naked. But there are also mailboxes, flea markets, and other cute anachronisms. Think of it as the Bible on acid.
In "Thy Is A Word & Feet Need Lamps," Half-Handed Cloud has managed to create twee pop that isn't sickening, with a Christian bent that won't bug anyone. Charming, sweet and severely offbeat.