A collection of strong emotions, gently expressed.
Jude Clarke 2013
When asked about the name of his often-solo, often-collaborative project, Canadian Mark Andrew Hamilton once explained that Woodpigeon was a word he loved because it looks like a rollercoaster when written by hand.
On fourth album proper, Thumbtacks and Glue, as on much of his band’s output since 2006 though, Hamilton’s music provides a much softer thrill than those usually found at a fairground.
Instead, peaks and troughs are navigated by the song’s lyrics. This is a collection of strong emotions, gently expressed.
Many tracks here seem rooted in an ineffable sadness. Opening track The Saddest Music – its vocal here, and again markedly on Robin Song, recalling Elliott Smith – lives up to its name, with walking-pace plucked acoustic strings and a touch of steel guitar.
The slow, almost hymn-like Little Wings features a stunning female guest vocal performance, proclaiming “love causes pain”, infused with sorrow as the two voices merge.
Look longer and listen harder, though, and shards of light emerge from the grief of fractured hearts.
Sufferin’ Suckatash is a song of two halves, opening with its repetition of lines like “It’s over, it’s over, I know”, only to gradually become more optimistic. The music’s upturn with the introduction of cheery sounding banjo twiddles mirrors the lyrical twist in the tale, as the missing-presumed-gone-forever lover returns.
Towards the album’s end, too, Hermit’s warm and caressing brass tones surround Hamilton celebrating what sounds like a hard-won victory, as he exclaims – softly yet still somehow triumphantly – “I… I… I’m still alive” over and over again.
The use of harmony (at its most lovely on Red Rover, Red Rover and Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard) and the band’s way of taking a sedate, simple tune and subtly, slowly but oh-so-effectively building it up, as if they’re actually adding layers of emotion as it goes on, all contribute to the album’s overall sense of intensity.
Just because is not music that shouts about itself, that dazzles with pyrotechnics or showboating guitar solos, its profundity and emotional heft is nevertheless, and perhaps even all the more, striking.