Half-Handed Cloud – Halos & Lassos

Half-Handed Cloud
Halos & Lassos

Before I put this album on the other day, I honestly (ok, not honestly, but for the sake of crappy humor) would have thought “twee pop” referred to the sound a Keebler Elf made after eating too many chocolate sandwich cookies. It was a word that wasn’t an active entry in my lexicon and a genre I hadn’t the foggiest notion about. Apparently it’s the choice phrase for classifying Half-handed Cloud, and I think I now have a pretty good conception of what “twee” might mean, even without the help of dictionary.com.

Pointless intro aside, Half-handed Cloud is a unique thing indeed. Halos & Lassos is almost so sophomoric and playful that as someone not aware of its brand of pop music, it’s hard to not take it as a joke. John Ringhofer’s voice is so high and childish it’s like playing a James Taylor song through a pitch shifter. With the average length of a track on Halos & Lassos being slightly under two minutes, the first listen through the album can be disorienting and largely forgettable, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Ringhofer’s modus operandi.

However, the next time through, maybe even towards the end of the first listen, you start to notice just how much Ringhofer has packed into what seem to be, at first impression, mere fleeting thoughts. Ringhofer reveals himself to be a masterful arranger, and the subtle touches in each of his songs are a testament to how seriously he takes his craft, no matter how immediate and whimsical they may sound when he finally unveils them. Even if you’re not a fan of simple, drum machine-driven two-man pop (the other man being recorder and mixer Brandon Buckner), it’s hard not to appreciate Ringhofer’s musically flamboyant writing style and ear for instrumental interaction. Here and there a bell tinkles, a banjo twangs out a little diddle, an accordion playfully wheezes. In addition to these and the ever-present acoustic guitar and Omnichord utilized by Half-handed Cloud, Ringhofer is a touring trombonist with Sufjan Stevens, and the instrument makes many appearances in his own songs.

A lot of press about Half-handed Cloud makes mention of its inherently Christian message, though opinions seem to scale it anywhere from some wholesome communication delivered by a man who receives free board for caretaking a church to some confused, intensely personal, twisted introspection on faith á la a mysterious figure like David Eugene Edwards. Lyrically, Ringhofer is certainly a faithful Christian, and it is easy to understand that Half-handed Cloud is a way of exploring his own faith and forging a deeper connection with the religion that permeates his life. However, it is not a soapbox from which to preach his sermon, it is not a witnessing tool to the faithless, and it certainly is not concerned with pleasing an exclusively Christian audience. It is John Ringhofer working with something he knows well and dearly and is comfortable with, and frankly, with his ear for musical arrangement, it wouldn’t matter much if his lyrics were Buddhist, sung in Chinese, or recitals of Satanic occult spells. Ringhofer is sincere and unconcerned. Though it may not appeal to everyone, he makes music for the very reason music exists.

On Halos & Lassos, as on all of his releases, Half-handed Cloud takes a laundry list of influences and eccentricities that, when combined, could potentially turn a lot of people off to his music. Yet with care and passion, Ringhofer crafts these oddities into something truly unique, utterly sincere, and, most importantly, full of life. I don’t take Ringhofer’s message to be predominantly Christian in nature; it’s something a little more grand and that many people can call their own. It’s about enjoying life, whatever it may bring, and, to borrow from the words of Portuguese neurologist Antonio Damasio, to always remember that “you are the music while it lasts.”