Withered Hand is basically Dan Wilson, a Scottish singer-songwriter who was actually worried his voice was too high and didn’t begin singing until he was well into his 20s. His voice is fairly high, and may be off-putting to some listeners, as it’s also creaky, breaking and often off-key. I found it growing on me and becoming endearing and honest after a few listens, and his voice isn’t the central focus here. The music, and especially the lyrics shine like the sun.
You could call his style bedroom pop, chamber pop, folk-pop or all of the above. There are shades of Belle & Sebastian, Jason Lytle, Elliott Smith and even some Americana. More importantly, he knows his way around hooks and melodies, no matter how subtle they are.
It’s a rare record where the highs are high and the lows are simply not that bad. Some highs: “I Am Nothing”, sad, gorgeous, where Wilson sings with melancholy, “I try to see the world through your eyes / I’m insignificant / That’s my size / In the greater scheme of things / I am nothing”. For highly depressed boys like me, I can relate to every word. I listened to “No Cigarettes” on the day I quit smoking, oddly enough (I failed), and the song is probably the strongest on the ironically titled Good News. Like many of the tracks here, it’s sparse, minor-key, and features a banjo, with lyrics not self-loathing, but more despondent about life and his view of himself. Wilson’s heart-on-sleeve, lugubrious honesty is refreshing. He’s not whining; he’s simply, more than often, just sad.
Other wonderful moments include “Religious Songs”, not unlike Mojave 3 or early Bright Eyes (and if you can stand Conor Oberst’s voice, you can stand Wilson’s). In “Hard On” he proclaims, “A beard don’t make you a man / No, it takes something else / Something I’ll never have”. Hits home.
You’ll probably find yourself spinning Good News quite often, as it becomes more and more pleasant with each listen. It’s certainly not the feel-good record of the year, but it’s not so depressing that it will alienate those strange people who are optimistic and happy.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.
// Sound Affects
"History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats. Keep your finger on important issues, and keep listening to the 275th most acclaimed album of all time. A 1982 masterpiece is this week's Counterbalance.READ the article