It had all the makings of the demise of a truly great band. Despite reaching their highest level of success ever — playing major festivals and selling out music halls throughout Europe — Denver’s 16 Horsepower had cut their last 2 tours short without giving much in the way of explanation. So when the band cited religious differences and announced they were going on hiatus for a year, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who followed the band.
The bassist had already cut a solo record (the fantastic though much overlooked Lilium), and rumors began to fly about who the bassist and drummer were planning to work with next. Then came word that David Eugene Edwards, the band’s frontman, was cutting a solo record using the material originally intended for the next full band release. And that seemed to be pretty much the end. After all, how many hiatus actually end with the band reforming? It seemed as though Edward’s solo record, coming under the Woven Hand moniker, would be the swan song, the last material intended for that great southern gothic, apocalypse-tinged act.
But as it turns out, this story has a happier ending. The band actually has reformed, and the Woven Hand album proves to be the first of three 16 Horsepower-related releases slated for this year. Woven Hand being the first, with the next 16 Horsepower record already completed and slated for a June release, and a collaborative effort between Edwards and Danielson’s Dan Smith due out before year’s end, completing the trifecta. It’s something of an embarrassment of riches considering how recently it appeared they’d be sliding from relative obscurity to complete non-existence.
As for Woven Hand, it’s already generating 16 Horsepower-lite comments, which while understandable, such comments completely trivialize the power this record carries on it’s own terms. It’s obvious from the first note that this is a 16 Horsepower-related releases. Edwards is one of the most distinctive vocalists going and his delivery is unchanged here. From the first line it’s obvious that he’s continuing to mine familiar lyrical territory as well. “I am nothing without his ghost within,” Edwards moans in “The Good Hand,” the first of countless references to Edwards’ faith.
While I can certainly understand why the supporting players in 16 Horsepower, none of whom share Edwards’ Christianity, might have some issues with his lyrical content, I’m quite happy to see it unchanged here as it provides the fuel for Edwards’ ghostly apocalyptic wailing. Strip the religion out of his lyrics and there’d be little power left. With the religion in, an Edwards record is the audio equivalent of reading Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.
Musically Edwards provides most of his own accompaniment here, drawing primarily on his skills on guitar, banjo and accordion. The arrangements here give the songs more room to breath than they’d be afforded on a full 16 Horsepower release, with the lighter instrumentation forcing Edwards to rely on atmosphere to build mood and effect rather than the full on assault that the band provides. Edwards also continues here with his recent trend of providing intriguing covers, this time giving a banjo and atmospheric hum treatment to “Ain’t No Sunshine,” pulling a classic song totally out of context and rendering it downright frightening. Indie rock kids will also be intrigued by the obvious lyrical nod to the Danielson Famile — “I took my shelter ‘neath a familyre tree.”
So the obvious question now is whether Edwards is better on his own or with the band, and there’s no obvious answer to that. Though Woven Hand and 16 Horsepower share an obvious lineage, the experiences are different enough to demand that they be taken on their own terms. 16 Horsepower has, of late, become more of an incendiary guitar based assault while Woven Hand indulges more of Edwards’ professed love for traditional instrumentation run through a more gothic mindset and all things drone. Really, no record collection is complete if you’re missing much of anything the man has set his mind to.
Edwards is reportedly still looking for a North American label to handle a domestic release for Woven Hand. For the time being it’s available only as a European import.
Written by Chris Brown.