We Haven’t Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved by Half-Handed Cloud (Review)

These songs are immediately compelling, perfectly rounded out, and though always brief, never feel truncated or half-done.
We Haven't Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved - Half-Handed Cloud

Half-Handed Cloud’s John Ringhofer should be the poster child for what those with extreme ADD can accomplish if they just set their mind to it. Apparently, Ringhofer is the holder of both an immense store of musical vision and talent as well as an attention span just slightly longer than that of your average housefly. Where these two attributes meet is where Ringhofer creates music as Half-Handed Cloud, and where he becomes the child-savant creator of miniscule, yet perfectly crafted pop gems.

Your typical Half-Handed Cloud tune clocks in somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds, though some are shorter and he will occasionally (though very rarely) break the two minute mark. Though his songs clock in at about 1/3 the length of what’s standard in the indie pop world, he manages to cram in twice as many hooks, instruments, and inventions. His songs are immediately compelling, perfectly rounded out, and though always brief, never feel truncated or half-done. To say he is a concise songwriter is an understatement. Rather, say that Ringhofer grasps his musical concepts tight and brings them to fruition in the shortest distance possible so as not to dilute their power.

For We Haven’t Just Been Told, We Have Been Loved, his second full-length for Asthmatic Kitty/Sounds Familyre, Ringhofer teams up with Danielson’s Dan Smith and it’s a perfect match. Smith is proving himself to have a solid production touch and he perfectly understands both Ringhofer’s manic musical persona and the simple (though never simplistic) faith perspective Ringhofer brings to his lyrics. Like both Danielson and Soul-Junk, Ringhofer’s art is intrinsically spiritual, constantly and very nearly solely reflecting Ringhofer’s Christian faith. And like those two artists, Ringhofer manages this without ever stepping into polemic or cliché.

The instrumentation is rich and varied. Ringhofer plays the bulk himself, jumping easily from your basic guitar pop to tracks driven by banjo, accordion, and other seemingly random noisemakers. Meanwhile, Smith brings along members of the extended Danielson Famile (including the stellar Sufjan Stevens, whose new records are apparently in the can and long overdue) to flesh things out. The obvious musical comparison is to Flood-era They Might Be Giants, though the sense of irony that so deeply marks TMBG’s work is completely absent from Ringhofer’s.

The one downside to this record is that while the songs are good, there are just too many of them. By the time you get 2/3 of the way through the record, things begin to blur, which is not to say the quality is lacking. If anything, it’s that there are so many ideas and sounds packed into so short a space that by record’s end, you’ve simply reached your saturation point and can’t absorb any more.

Written by Chris Brown.