Withered Hand

New Gods

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The cover image of New Gods, the second album from Scottish indie folkster Dan Wilson's Withered Hand moniker, features the singer posing with an acoustic guitar, hand covering his face. A closer look reveals a K Records sticker prominently displayed on the guitar, the shielded upper-case letter an icon for the spirit of independent creation. There's a track called "Black Tambourine," name-checking the influential noise pop band and featuring backing vocals and percussion from none other than Black Tambourine's lead singer, Pam Berry. Cameo appearances from members of Belle and Sebastian and Withered Hand's much acclaimed homespun debut Good News, along with the aforementioned indie indicators, all start to point toward New Gods being a lo-fi masterpiece of twee sentiments and doe-eyed chamber pop. Seconds into album opener "Horseshoe," however, the album reveals itself as anything but lo-fi, with beefy production and peppy instrumentation that lean more toward mid-'90s alt-radio rock than anything recorded on a four-track for an indie label. Wilson's lyrics are at the forefront, with each song coming across somewhere between conversational and confessional, touching on everything from the often-visited theme of troubled love to stopping for a burger after a heavy emotional all-nighter on the desperate-but-breezy "California." The songs waver between upbeat rockers, moody acoustic folk, and melancholic indie pop. The influence and help from the Belle and Sebastian camp come through strongly on the more melodic indie pop rompers like "King of Hollywood" and the trumpet lines of "Between True Love and Ruin." There are also hints of Los Campesinos!' shouty punk on "Heart Heart," an uncommonly boisterous tune and the most energetic moment on the album. The bright production sheen of New Gods takes a little getting used to, especially considering the charming dustiness of previous albums, but the sonic upgrade ultimately doesn't take away any of the album's impact. Instead, its varied tones and moods settle into an exciting, vivid bigger picture and represent a clearer collection of Wilson's intelligent lyrical portraits and shifting stylistic muses.

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