Armed with the psalms of David, an acoustic guitar, and an electronic Omnichord, Half-handed Cloud assails nineteen new pop songs outside Eden’s gates on Halos & Lassos, the latest full-length album on Asthmatic Kitty Records. With hints of fitness music and video game soundtracks, Halos & Lassos festively tromps through 19 songs like a mostly-sunny afternoon in Berkeley, California home of main singer and songwriter John Ringhofer. With the modal purity of Moondog, symphonic elements of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and the ancient art of punning, the album boasts pleasant acoustic melodies arranged around the ambidextrous Omnichord, a kidney-shaped electronic auto-harp/drum machine/synthesizer from the 1980′s. This odd instrument accounts for much of the unique coloring on the album: accordion-like chords, scrupulous drum beats, pre-set bass-lines, and a rectangular pressure pad strummed for gurgle “effects.”
Recorded/mixed by Brandon Buckner in May 2005 at Ears of Corn Studio in Iowa City, Halos & Lassos is Half-handed Cloud’s fourth full-length album for Asthmatic Kitty; 2001′s acclaimed, Learning About Your Scale (also mixed by Buckner) was his first, followed by, We Haven’t Just Been Told, We have been Loved (2002), and 2005′s Thy is a Word & Feet Need Lamps. Halos & Lassos showcases John Ringhofer on piano, banjo, marimba, melodian, guitar, bass, bell-kit, trombone, Omnichord, and vocals, joined by Brandon Buckner on drums, and percussion and Wendy Buckner on Bass Clarinet.
At less than 30 minutes, the album’s brevity is trumped by its generosity of material. Biblical allusions, sophisticated theology, and lyrical displays of affection are measured by Ringhofer’s indelible sense of humor, littered with double meanings and symbolic gestures. A wordsmith taking field notes would be a helpful companion. The prophet Isaiah rubs shoulders with picnic tablecloths and public transportation, as calibrated by Ringhofer’s clever vocal somersaulting and proficient rhyme schemes. Choruses stack tightly against one another like medieval building blocks painted with scenes from daily life and devotion. Each song unwraps itself like a present for a lover with multiple references to kisses, hugs, and a divine Beloved. This album risks everything to pose the question: What’s more romantic than an unending crush on God?
So how to reconcile the poetics of “Every lost dream you restore with the childish “You’ll wake up each morning and jump rope”? One wonders about this child-like belief, or these unearthly visions that must haunt Ringhofer in his dreams. But, like the late visionary artists Henry Darger and Howard Finster, Half-handed Cloud isn’t meant to be perfectly understood, but rather, spiritually and sensually experienced, with laughing and clapping. Buttressed by banjos, trombones, jingle bells, and a line about sacrificing children to demons, Half-handed Cloud’s Halos & Lassos is perfect for a soapy bath, preparation for deep prayer, decorating the Christmas tree, or meditating on your death. In any circumstance, it will certainly lift your spirits.
released March 7, 2006
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