Label: Atomic Kitty Release date: 18/10/10 Link: Myspace Half Handed Cloud, the pseudonym of John Ringhofer, from Berkeley, California, is a part time custodian, a full time vegetarian, and an evangelical Christian. As Stowaways… is therefore not quite what you’d expect; it’s bloody brilliant. Though obviously not to everyone’s tastes, any fans of Gideon Conn, Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston will fall instantly in love with the dizzyingly innocent and vulnerable songs, as Ringhofer’s false falsetto slowly converts you to his life as a “recycler of plastic, a compulsive note-taker, and a habitual optimist” (the biography on his website is well worth a look!). Ringhofer has written deceptively simple songs around a piano, sounding like nursery rhymes on tracks such as ‘Source of the Watercourse’, but this is undercut by the high production values, and the superb work of his support band as the harmonised choruses become an all engrossing attack on your senses and beliefs. From tracks like ‘Armstrong’s Line’ and ‘You’ll Sea’ it becomes increasingly obvious that Ringhofer has worked closely with Sufjan Stevens- he plays as trombonist in his backing band- whilst the album is constantly in dialogue with the brass orientated Beirut, emphasised by the horns on ‘Armstrong’s Line’. Even the shortest track, ‘Intro Jars’ at 57 seconds, propagates personality and charisma, with it increasingly apparent that no expense has been spared over the high standard of production, with a string section benefiting ‘Maritime Rites’, amongst others. Beta Band guitars are used at regular intervals to enrich the sound, and offer variety to an album which has the potential to struggle for legs were it not so endearing in subtlety and richness, which is no more evident than on ‘Set Your Beams’. A potential weakness in the record is that at 39 minutes, spread across 25 songs, it begins to almost suffer from the diversity. As you begin to embrace a new song, it races to a conclusion, and you are left feeling that you never quite relax into the record. That said, this can be seen as a strength; the album meanders through a loosely regimented theme, with the vague variations of tracks blending together to form one strong sound which leaves you struggling to find a bad track. With the songs barely two minutes apiece, Ringhofer has resuscitated an old fashioned idea of a song as a medium for a message, and this keeps the record fresh, rather than vainly indulging in repetition. Initially alarming as an idea for an album, it is a nonetheless enigmatic LP, which is only strengthened and developed by further listening. Whilst it has been written as a Christian tribute, this doesn’t alienate the album, and it is easy to simply appreciate what is undeniably a brilliant collection of songs. Photobucket