Photo: Courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records

Half-handed Cloud Collects His Oddities for ‘Gathered Out of Thin Air’

Songwriter John Ringhofer digs up a decade's worth of odds and ends for an expansive look into the corners of his career as Half-handed Cloud.

Gathered Out of Thin Air
Half-handed Cloud
Asthmatic Kitty
15 November 2019

Half-handed Cloud has been weird for a long time now. The act (essentially John Ringhofer) put out its first release for Asthmatic Kitty over 20 years ago. Ringhofer’s fractured pop – including songs that often feel like fragments – has flourished, his short bursts of stuffed tunes, odd topics, and humor finding its niche, a properly odd spot near Sufjan Stevens and Danielson (with both of whom Ringhofer has worked). Over time, Half-handed Cloud has put out not only a run of albums and EPs but a wild assortment of odds and ends. Much of that material from the past decade – 60 tracks, to be precise – has now been collected as Gathered Out of Thin Air, a compilation that blows through everything from religion to exploration to indie-folk covers to Christmas. It’s scattered and a little reckless, but a fine splash of what makes Half-handed Cloud a special act.

Entered into blindly, the compilation is a joyful treat, an assorted bit of chaos full of instruments and brightness. Better, Ringhofer provides some orienting notes, revealing not only the set’s organizational structure but also some of the thinking behind his work. A stretch of songs just over halfway through sounds particularly Jesus-y, and it turns out that Ringhofer took this music from a planned album that would serve as a walking devotional. He discarded the idea, and it’s hard to tell how well it would have worked. The songs presented here succeed, but they’re uniquely structured to his processes and location. As music, it works, but it’s even more intriguing as a recording of place and habit, offering more to think about. The cuts turn from ADHD pop into a picture of Wendell Berry at recess.

The Christmas numbers cohere into their own holiday set, although their brevity works against them. Two of the yuletide tracks last just 17 seconds, or roughly twice as long as the average preschooler’s interest in a new present. The sequence plays out as an odd collage; the pieces disconnected from any original context and somewhat recombined into a singular experience. The songs serve their purpose: a quick gathering of Cloud’s Christmas work over the past ten years, hinting at what’s out there. It still makes for an odd listening experience.

The entire DOVE EP appears here in a remixed form, and getting the full disc pays off. Ringhofer composed these seven tracks with thematic coherence and steadier structures in mind. Although an EP in form, it shows a fully developed sensibility, with Ringhofer allowing himself the space to bring his ideas to a bigger place without sacrificing his frenetic bliss. The inclusion of a limited release of this quality makes for a highlight of the set.

Half-handed Cloud has maintained its distinct voice through the years, so it’s not unexpected that its compilation would have that same sort of feel – a little chaotic and a little busy, but full of personality, energy, and ideas. In some ways, the oddness provides a perfect look at what Ringhofer does and who he is as an artist. In other ways, it would make for a difficult introduction. For long-time fans, Gathered Out of Thin Air brings together plenty of music into a single space that’s likely to satisfy.

RATING 7 / 10