[25 February 2013]
It has become quite common these days for music to yearn for the recording schedules of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when many bands released one LP a year, or sometimes even more. It should not be forgotten, however, that most artists of that era were only able to meet such punishing timetables by packing albums with covers and filler; a good reason why it was decades before the album became a respected and creatively valuable format. Two or three year album cycles came about for a reason, and those bands which continue to release huge reams of material year-on-year simply cannot hope to maintain any semblance of consistency. Woodpigeon are one such band.
This indie-folk collective, centred Nine Inch Nails-style around Calgary’s Mark Hamilton, first really came to attention with debut LP Songbook in 2006 (or 2008, when it was released in Europe). At the time Canada seemed to be producing more talented indie bands than it could reasonably contain, and the epic, scattershot earnestness of the record saw Woodpigeon listed among the best of them. The tour album Treasury Library Canada attracted so much attention that what was originally pressed into only a thousand copies became a proper release in its own right – tellingly, many of its tracks had originally been written for the previous LP.
Thumbtacks + Glue arrives at the tail end of a period which for Hamilton and Woodpigeon have been so productive that it’s hard to tell which number LP it actually is. Since the last “proper” full-length, Die Stadt Muzikanten, no less than two other albums and three EPs have been put out under the Woodpigeon name, not including extra live material. It’s an avalanche, and it matters because Thumbtacks + Glue sounds, perhaps not surprisingly, like the work of an exhausted Mark Hamilton.
Everything about opener “The Saddest Music in the World” suggests that this is going to be a fairly subdued, even maudlin, record – and so it proves. Hushed introspection has long been one of Hamilton’s primary modes, but without the joyous interludes of earlier albums the atmosphere of Thumbtacks + Glue becomes quite oppressive in places, especially in the two lengthy tracks that close the record and genuinely drag.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with albums dominated by a particular mood, but what makes this effort feel so underwhelming is the desperate lack of interesting melodies. With a title like “As Read in the Pine Bluff Commercial”, we might expect the song to possess the deft melodicism for which so many of Hamilton’s songs are known, but what we get instead is a very perfunctory effort set against one of the album’s many plaintive acoustic guitar backings. Inspirational, it is not. One of the reasons for all this is probably the fairly drastic reduction in collaborators Hamilton has worked with – only seven other individuals are credited on the album, which by Woodpigeon standards is quite small.
There are rays of light, for sure – after a very laboured build-up, the electric guitar-heavy “Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard” eventually works up a kind of drama before a bleepy electronic outro, and Hamilton’s duet on “Little Wings” makes a welcome change. But dragging 10 quite ordinary Woodpigeon songs over 45 minutes makes Thumbtacks + Glue a sadly laborious and pedestrian listen, bereft of the wonder in the best of Hamilton’s previous work.