Half-Handed Cloud: Thy Is a Word and Feet Need Lamps

Justin Cober-Lake

It's Friday night church time: disordered music and bizarre stories that mostly work out.

Half-handed Cloud

Thy Is a Word and Feet Need Lamps

Label: Asthmatic Kitty
US Release Date: 2005-03-01
UK Release Date: 2005-03-07
Amazon affiliate

I could say that Half-Handed Cloud (John Ringhofer) does what he does better than anyone else. While that might be true, I'd be lying by omission if I didn't add that I don't know anyone else who does quite what he does. On Thy Is a Word and Feet Need Lamps, what he does is gather many instruments (toy and otherwise) and sound-producing devices and blend them musically into songs that, combined, last less than 30 minutes.

He sounds at home on Asthmatic Kitty, where artists like Sufjan Stevens and Liz Janes also provide an experimental take on folk music. But where the others (especially Stevens on 2003's Greetings from Michigan) carefully orchestrate and arrange their numbers, Ringhofer's tunes sound as if they've been produced by a hyperactive child with too many objects in his room. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though, and multiple listens reveal that the songs, while short and even internally choppy, have been assembled with care (possibly by our wild child's parent before Christmas).

Ringhofer's tenor compliments the music perfectly, which is to say that it's odd. He sounds concerned less with accurate pitch and more with producing throat-based sounds that fit the general aesthetic. His voice stays a little too steady to be a warble, and a little too thin to be a croon. Given the horns, strings, borrowed marimba, and "doppler effects" going on behind him, Ringhofer feels no more out of place than the bearded-lady at a freak show -- sure, she'll get your attention, but they are weirder things to gawk at.

That voice is vital to Half-Handed Cloud, though, because Ringhofer's a storyteller. On this album, his tracks revisit Biblical tales, usually the grossest, darkest, or most scatalogical ones you can come up with (or at least that a more Biblically-well-read person could). "Let's Go Javelin!" recounts the story of Phineas's killing of an Israelite man and Midianitish woman who had improperly gotten to know each other. It's a strange story, and the kind that makes you wonder how you ever forgot it, but Ringhofer makes it even weirder (and more memorable) in his rendering. If you couldn't guess from the song title, there is some humor here. Ringhofer describes the Israelites who were marrying outside of their group as "getting joined up, and Siamesed" and the woman of the story as "the daughter of the bad guys' president." Death by javelin-stabbing sounds like this: "Owwee Owwee Owwee!"

And then Ringhofer leaves the tale, with absolutely no application or interpretation (beyond the fact that a re-telling is always already an interpretation). From there, we just zip immediately into "Ezekiel's Bread", the story in which the Israelites are told, "Gather up your fuel / From the lieu / Make your bread over / Human poo". In this rendition, the tale's backed by nervous cellos and scattershot drumming and horns and a harmonica and at one point a piano playing the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" (but that last only happened when I tried to find the fecal fuel story online -- I momentarily thought it was a brilliant mash-up before I realized the song was coming from some religious website; just a note for you experimental Christian DJs out there...).

So it's kind of like church, because there are all these Bible stories; but it's kind of like junior-high band, because too many instruments simultaneously are playing something somewhat-related; and kind of like college Astronomy, because sometimes I don't think anyone knows what the h-heck is going on. At any rate, it's an experience -- praise the Lord and pass the moonshine.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.