“Singing religious songs and getting the words wrong”: Withered Hand

The other record I’ve been crazy about lately is Good News by Withered Hand, a.k.a. a father of two from Edinburgh with a Moldy Peaches poster on his wall named Dan Willson.  It’s pretty easy to describe the album: it sounds a whole lot like early If You’re Feeling Sinister-period Belle & Sebastian; his voice can sound like Dean Wareham’s, and on some of the songs the slightly hanging-back drumming style makes me think of Galaxie 500’s Damon Krukowski.* [* just noticed that Good News was produced by Kramer, the guy who did the early Galaxie 500 records!  So maybe that drum thing is his signature.]

The Belle & Sebastian analogy isn’t just a matter of sound, either — if Willson’s not actually a former choirboy, he’s definitely hung up on a guilty Catholic Edinburgh childhood.

Anyway: amazing, beautiful, hilarious songs!  Maybe the best lyrics are on the hymnal “Religious Songs,” an acoustic version of which you can see Willson performing on his own Edinburgh rooftop in the video below.

Really, this is a seriously incredible song.  It starts out with a lapsed-Catholic’s confusion over the ritual of the sacrament and turns into pained memories of something short of a relationship: “Remember you thought I was gay?/ I beat myself off when I sleep on your futon/ Walk in the rain with my second-hand suit on.” He still feels guilty for not singing religious songs anymore and is half-ripping off Dylan in any case (“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” counts as a religious song, I guess?).

I don’t really know what I should do
Like should I be passing this bread along to you
And I don’t really know what the wine was for
Like if this was Jesus’ blood wouldn’t there be more?
I’m knocking on Kevin’s front door
I’m singing religious songs and getting the words wrong
My hair’s getting too long, this congregation
And they’re saying, how does he really expect to be happy
when he listens to death metal bands?
La, la la la, la la la, la la la la la

If there’s manna from heaven then you’re disinclined to share
You stole my heart and I stole your underwear
You said “religion is bullshit it’s all about metaphor”
Well if I need a fence to sit on
I’ll sit on yours dreaming of Babylon’s whores

I knew you so long I ran out of cool things to say
I still bump into friends that we both had yesterday
When they ask me how I am I I lie, say I’m doing fine
Still manage to tell me you’re on an easy lake holiday well that’s OK [?]
Remember you thought I was gay?
I beat myself off when I sleep on your futon
Walk in the rain with my second-hand suit on
I walk in the rain and I’m thinking, if I happen to die tonight in my sleep
I’ll have come and not blood on my hands
La, la la la, la la la, la la la la la

“New Dawn” is peppier, sounds more like… what was that Scottish band, I can’t remember now, the Lighthouse Keepers?  Who am I thinking of?*  “I saw you at the Embassy/ We were both crippled socially/…We wrote ‘Pavement’ on our shoes…. We paid our respects, we wrote ‘Confusion is Sex,’ and on your shoulder-bag I wrote ‘the Silver Jews.'”  “I Am Nothing” is another fave: “I tried to see the world in your eyes/ I’m insignificant, that’s my size/ In the greater scheme of things I am nothing.”  [*I was trying to think of the Wedding Present who are actually from Leeds.]

Love this record.  Get this guy in a studio with Frank Ocean and see what happens!

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