Half-Handed Cloud – We’ve Not Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved

Half-Handed Cloud
We’ve Not Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved

Although it’s a fact that can often be lost in an era when the demands of art require increasingly grandiose and elaborate statements, some works of inspiration are obviously stronger because of their brevity. No doubt, the Sistine Chapel and War and Peace exist as lasting testaments to artists who thought of art in grand and extensive terms, and the sonic and conceptual sprawl of albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is at least part of their appeal, but there is something to be said for art that can make its point succinctly and still have the same impact. And yet the stereotype persists that if a work doesn’t require a certain time investment, both for the artist and the audience, then it can’t be that great. After all, how many short stories, EP’s, or 20-minute films can you name as being canonized as classics in their field? It seems self-evident that we can’t have it both ways. From the first spin of Half-Handed Cloud’s We’ve Not Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved, it’s obvious that we can have it both ways.
As with his debut, last year’s gloriously chaotic Learning Your Scale, John Ringhoffer and his cast of friends (including members of the Danielson Famile and Sufjan Stevens) and a war chest of instruments (toy pianos to sleigh bells, cellos, banjos, and horns) combine to make a brilliantly scattered symphony bursting with joy, personality, and clever metaphor. Falling somewhere between Brian Wilson’s chaotic unfinished opus in Smile and the children’s marching band songs on Of Montreal’s The Gay Parade, these songs are multi-layered and trippy, featuring humongous helpings of bouncy piano pop, multi-part harmonies, and soaringly transcendent melodies rising out of a mass of swirling background noises and delightful squeaks and squeals. Oh yeah, and he delivers the whole album in roughly 25 minutes.
Even as it’s difficult to tell where one song ends and the next one begins, as they seem to bleed seamlessly into each other, every track manages to establish a central melodic theme and warp through several puzzling time changes and textural enhancements before it ends – not an easy feat when each song runs about a minute in length. Whether finding the soaring Spector-esque wall of sound in “Sailing the Veil-Boat,” the alternately playful and elegant cello, complex harmonies, and kazoo of “We Are Not Orphaned,” or the slurvy indie rock of “Even the Sparrow’d Be Arrowed,” the tracks are fully formed and dazzlingly intricate. Still, the majority of the songs are founded upon some variety of piano-pop bounce before fading into a sea of background noises and abstractions, with some wonderfully memorable melodic pieces arising in tracks like “Pressing Into It” and “Samuel Sleeps Where the Ark Lays.” In short, the balance of tempos and textures is nearly perfect, making the album play like one big whirling, frantically paced, yet amazingly complete song.
In short, despite its running time, there is nothing anti-intellectual or simplistic about John Ringhoffer’s art. In fact, his songs are almost inconceivably complex, loaded with the unexpected, leaping into each other like water running down a staircase yet never suffering from even the slightest lack of completeness. In fact, by the end of the disc, you’ll scarcely realize that it has taken less than half an hour for Ringhoffer to present his unified work of 24 songs to you. Overall, it’s an album that goes well beyond gimmick or novelty and becomes one of the most endlessly enduring and downright enjoyable indie pop albums of the year. It may only take you 25 minutes to listen to it, but you could spend years exploring the inner workings of We’ve Not Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved and still not figure it all out.