Half-handed Cloud is a secretly powerful band. They pack incredible amounts of punch into indie-pop songs that almost never break the 2:30 mark and most often sit comfortably between 45 to 90 seconds. They are a never-ending font of vocal melodies, instrumental flourishes, unusual jumps, thoughtful lyrics, and enigmatic song endings. They are experts at doing everything that most bands do in 3:30 in a fraction of that time.
Half-handed Cloud is on Sufjan’s Asthmatic Kitty label, which is perfectly right; Half-handed Cloud is a hyperactive, exaggerated version of Sufjan’s Illinois phase. If you wish that Sufjan still sounded like that, then you’re in luck: Half-Handed Cloud sounded like that before Sufjan did, and still sounds like it after Sufjan does. In other words, there are legitimate ways in which John Ringhofer is more Sufjan than Sufjan. Word.
Here’s one way that HHC is out-Sufjaning the man himself: Gathered Out of Thin Air is a b-sides record that collects sixty (60, not a typo) non-LP songs that have appeared (or not) over the last decade. Further dueling with the master: half of them are about Jesus, there’s a whole sequence about Magellan-era naval exploration, eight Christmas/holiday songs (!!!), and one called “Viscous Shadow of Cleopas,” which sounds more early-Mountain Goats than Sufjan. It’s very simply a treasure trove: there’s barely a second to breathe, not a song of waste, and literally no place to start in a review. Okay, maybe there is a place to start: There’s a song about how Y2K was a disappointment [“Nativity Costume (2000 Year’s Eve)”]. That’s pretty rad.
John Ringhofer’s voice is very high, so you may not be into that sort of thing. You may not be into blitz-speed songs that usually don’t feature normal song structures. But if you’re basically anyone else, this collection is an absolutely incredible trove of tunes by Half-Handed Cloud. You might say, “Okay, but is a 60-song b-sides compilation the best place to start in an oeuvre?” I would say yes. It’s that good. Half-handed Cloud is so fantastic that even their b-sides are magnificent. I’ve been listening to Half-Handed Cloud since the earliest days of Independent Clauses, and while I don’t listen to HHC every day, this is exactly why I love them so much. They’re great, Gathered From Thin Air is great, and you’ll feel great when you’re listening to this. Highly recommended.–Stephen Carradini