Thursday 27 February 2014

Withered Hand: New Gods

What record has given me greater pleasure in the last 5 years than Withered Hand's Good News? Or in the last 10 years? Drawing on James Yorkston's Moving Up Country - the very heartbeat of the new Scottish folk tradition - and the sparkling eloquence of the Silver Jews' American Water it marked the arrival of a great musical and lyrical talent in Dan Willson.

Where Good News corrupted the Good News Bible with a teenager's spirit and a comic's wit - the anti-masturbation campaigner John Harvey Kellogg on Cornflake; atheistic, sexual rebellion on Religious Songs - from the background of growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, this collection elevates musical heroes as the New Gods.

Those musical New Gods are referenced, or worshipped - King Creosote on King Of Hollywood, the US indie underground on Black Tambourine - by Willson with a full band. So if you can also hear Pavement's Major Leagues on Fall Apart or Galaxie 500's half-lit melodic tricks on Between True Love and Ruin, then they too are the new gods.

But this isn't a record of reference points. How would you explain the zen-like perfection of Horseshoe? It sounds like one of those songs that's always existed. Perhaps in the future it'll never not be playing on an oldies radio station somewhere in the world.

Nor is this a record divorced from its predecessor. Love In The Time Of Ecstasy is namechecked in Love Over Desire and the precisely poised pathos of early 70s Neil Young, which helped define Good News, is carried over to New Gods' ballads.

It's easy to see New Gods selling 10-15,000 copies. The production by Tony Doogan, who worked on Belle and Sebastian's early albums, adds a fresh luminosity that could help transfer these songs, as happened to Belle and Sebastian, to a more mainstream audience.

It's early days, but New Gods sounds like the very best record to come my way in a long time.

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