I finally got round to seeing Withered Hand recently, and when asked by a friend to describe what it was like I must admit I struggled. After wrestling with expressions like 'deliberately lo-fi' and 'artfully artless' - which apply to the early recordings and not the live sound - the only thing I felt comfortable setting in stone was 'game changer'.
As someone who attempts to write my own songs from time to time, every so often I come across tracks that as well as simply liking I actually wish I'd written myself. Hearing these songs can either be an inspiration - causing me to stop the track before it's finished and run off and try to write something of my own - or (and this is more often the case) herald a fit of despair and self-pity - 'I'll never write anything that good' and so on and so forth... Listening to Withered Hand, however, makes me want to unlearn everything I think I know about songwriting and start all over from the beginning again.
I say this, of course, with reference to recording by Withered Hand (the nom de'guerre of singer/songwriter Dan Wilson) that I've had time to get to know fairly intimately: 2009's Good News album, and the smattering of EPs and single mp3s I've been able to get my hands on. This new record, the Heart Heart EP, comes courtesy of the Fence Collective's Chart Ruse subscription scheme (although it can still be bought separately), and will probably take a little while to grow on me. The lead track, Heart Heart, is fast becoming a favourite even though on first listen it struck me as something of a departure from the usual WH sound (although there are distinct parallels with the Religious Songs EP version of New Dawn). The rest of the tracks (not counting the vinyl-only King Creosote remix) are in more familiar territory but have yet to stamp their identity on my ears in the way many of WH's older songs already have.
Whether they do or not, there's no getting round the fact that this EP is - music aside - quite simple a lovely object to own. To those who question the value of music in physical form I recommend feasting your eyes on this exquisitely designed sleeve, with its die-cut hole and beautiful illustrations.