Half-Handed Cloud – Learning About Your Scale

Half-Handed Cloud
Learning About Your Scale

Much has been said about modern society’s proclivity for wanting things in their lives to be increasingly smaller, cheaper, and faster. In fact, after our love of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” many of us (whether we admit it or not) would list the right to things that will fit better in our cramped apartments, cost us less, and take less time to do what we want them to do. As such, it comes as some surprise that it has taken so long for an artist like Half-Handed Cloud to emerge, completely ready to give us all of our pop songwriting treats in half the time.
With 25 songs clocking in it at around 24 minutes, Half-Handed Cloud’s John Ringhofer’s Learning About Your Scale delivers a pop opus for those with short attention spans. Oh yeah, and he’s also a Christian artist who isn’t shy about expressing his faith in generally non-traditional and esoteric terms. An ideological cousin to experimental Christian popsters like the Danielson Famile and Jai Agnish, for those of us wary of contemporary Christian music, it’s downright dumbfounding to hear such interesting and enjoyable music coming from such a traditionally staid and uninspiring genre. Joined here by a large cast of collaborators from his native Knoxville, Tenn., Ringhofer milks more melodies and time changes in a minute and a half of music than most artists do over the length of an album.
Amazingly, even though the longest song lasts for a little over two minutes, with most falling just short or just beyond the one minute mark, few really feel in any way truncated. Sure, a few seem to be over before they get started, and it certainly requires your full attention to keep track of everything that is going on, but most of the songs come across as fully developed – fully equipped with verses, choruses, gloriously twisting melodies, three-part harmonies, a church basement full of instruments, and schizophrenic stumbles down strange side roads. Big, gorgeous pop melodies and plaintive acoustic guitar strums (not to mention squeak toys) dominate in “Baby Moon,” with nice added effects like teeth brushing sounds added to fill out tracks like “Make Us Clean.” Occasionally combining multiple songs under the heading of one song-suite, such as “Those People We Made? We Love ‘Em!,” a set of tracks apparently about God creating the universe, Ringhofer fearlessly goes where no Christian artist has been before.
At times incredibly lush, as with the ukulele, violin, and cello of “Can’t Even Breathe on My Own Two Feet,” most of his songs are wonderfully complex, making great use of a variety of well-developed textures and melodies – even if they disappear shortly after they materialize. Loaded with “do do do”s and peculiar sounds, there are few depressing moments, whether wrapped in pleas for God to mute Ringhofer’s capacity to sin (“Rewire My Desire”) or proclaiming the virtues of God’s love in the banjo clap-along “To Love Like the Father & Son Love Each Other.” His approach to faith never comes across as even mildly heavy-handed, as well, as he seems to be more than satisfied to present his own personal weaknesses than to throw mud at those who fall outside of his belief system.
No doubt, it takes a certain talent to cram a full double-LP’s worth of music into less than a half hour of music. At the same time, however, the totality of the album almost comes across as one giant, sprawlingly surreal song. At any rate, it’s never dull and never short of being both an interesting and enjoyable listen. So, if you’re the type who just doesn’t have the time to sit down and spend 45 minutes to an hour with your favorite musical artist, invite Half-Handed Cloud over. He won’t take up much space, is relatively inexpensive, and will be gone before you know it.