Withered Hand - New Gods - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Withered Hand - New Gods

by David Bruggink Rating:7 Release Date:2014-03-10

The debut album of Edinburgh-based Withered Hand (aka Dan Willson), Good News, revealed a songwriter with strong potential. Spare but affecting arrangements, faintly subversive lyrics tossed out with casual ease, and one of those earnest, imperfect voices perfect for ramshackle folk songs all added up to suggest that Dan could give fellow Scotsman King Creosote a run for his money.

With New Gods, the rough edges of his debut, for better or worse, have mostly been sanded off. The stripped-down, bucolic quality of songs like 'Cornflake' and 'Love in the Time of Ecstasy' is largely gone, replaced with more ornate arrangements, while the album's moments of infectious energy, which could recall Bizarro-era The Wedding Present ('New Dawn'), have been preserved and expanded upon.

New Gods has its fair share of mid-tempo, contemplative tracks, as well as sing-along acoustic anthems in the vein of Frightened Rabbit, whose Scott Hutchison features on the album. The catchiness and chiming lead guitar of early single 'Black Tambourine' brings to mind a more restrained, folkier version of The Stone Roses' 'Elephant Stone'. Whereas Dan's singing was enjoyably rough-hewn on his debut, here he's noticeably more accessible, while retaining his penchant for creating unsettling dissonance between lyrics and music.

On upbeat opener 'Horseshoe' he sings: "We could kill our friends/ We can sing a song that never ends again/ Tell me, was it easy to pretend like nobody is dead? And nobody you love will ever die?" Lyrically, New Gods is bleak at times, even when the music is energetic, as on barn-burner, 'Heart Heart,' probing the uneasy balance of modern life between hope and anxiety.

Compared with Good News, the more embellished arrangements of New Gods have mixed success. 'Love Over Desire' repeats "Love, love, love" in sing-along fashion ad nauseum; the doleful 'California' feels like being doused with cold water as it stretches out its refrain ("Caa-li-for-nee-yaah"), especially following the sprightly 'King of Hollywood.' But when Dan allows more space in the mix, focusing on the purity of his voice and the quiet power of his lyrics, he hits gold, as on the title track.

It's no surprise that members of Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, and King Creosote appear on New Gods; one can hear their influence on different tracks pretty clearly. That's not much of a criticism, as Withered Hand has produced an album that's memorable and often very catchy, while retaining his own distinctive voice.

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