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

Photo: Courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records

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.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.