SORRY, THE LIMITED EDITION GOLD VINYL VERSION IS NOW SOLD OUT. THE NORMAL VERSION IS STILL PRETTY FANCY THOUGH.
The long awaited second album New Gods by WITHERED HAND (aka Edinburgh based folk-rock troubadour Dan Willson) will be released in March via Fortuna POP! (UK/Europe) and Slumberland (US/Canada). The eleven meditations on love, fidelity and transience therein see Willson’s songwriting hit dizzying heights: by turns confessional and melancholy, raucous and life-affirming; his trademark dark humour turned down a wee notch; life, in all its many facets, turned up to full.
Active in the world of visual art and dabbling in music for many years, Dan Willson came late to singing and songwriting at age 30, in a period of reflection between the death of a close friend and the birth of his first child. The resultant material, much of which went on to become the album Good News, was praised for its depth and startling honesty, and won him accolades from the likes of Rolling Stone and Mojo, as well as fans from Jarvis Cocker to Marc Riley. The ensuing years saw him embraced by the now defunct Fife-based musical powerhouse the Fence Collective and his songs picked up by MTV and cult series Skins.
A prolific live performer, recent Withered Hand shows have included Pam Berry of seminal 90s US noisepop band Black Tambourine (who also contributes vocals to the new album) amid a rotating cast of musical friends embellishing Dan\'s exuberant and original songwriting, alongside his fragile and uplifting solo performances.
Aided by a grant from arts council body Creative Scotland, New Gods saw Withered Hand entering a proper studio for the first time to work with legendary Scottish producer Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Mountain Goats, Teenage Fanclub), and features guest appearances from a veritable who\'s who of Scottish music including King Creosote, Eugene Kelly of The Vaselines, and members of Belle & Sebastian (Stevie Jackson, Chris Geddes) and Frightened Rabbit (Scott Hutchison).
Across the eleven songs on New Gods, Willson deals with the big stuff: love, death, friendship, infidelity, road trips, stargazing and cough mixture abuse. First single proper, the magnificent ‘Horseshoe’, kicks off proceedings with its plaintive entreaty “Please don’t put a shadow on her lung”. Love and the fear of loss is the theme here. “Nobody you love will ever die,” sings Dan. It’s followed by the album taster track ‘Black Tambourine’, the purest pop song on the album, an anti-hipster anthem that jangles in all the right places. ‘King Of Hollywood’ details a night in LA with Willson’s friend and mentor King Creosote, Willson’s keen eye for detail as hilarious as ever, while title track ‘New Gods’ sees him transported to Switzerland, cutting across the fields at night and staring up at the Milky Way, like a huge ribbon across the sky, infinitely beautiful and humbling. This is widescreen pop music par excellence.
The five years since Good News was recorded has seen Willson honing his craft, building his audience and gaining critical momentum. The new album is a beautifully executed collection of songs from one of Scotland’s most gifted songwriters.
THIS RECORD IS AVAILABLE THRU THE WONDERFUL SLUMBERLAND RECORDS IN THE US AND CANADA - PLEASE SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL RECORD LABEL.
"Edinburgh's Dan Willson scales-up the celestial folk of his 2009 debut. King Creosote, Eugene Kelly and members of Belle & Sebastian bring deep-pile, micro-orchestration to the sardonic, wistful, always finely wrought songs"
Older and wiser? You're having a laugh. Getting older makes you feel vulnerable; fearful for your knees and your loved ones; unsure of everything when you used to know it all. You cry at the most ridiculous films. Look in the mirror and see your ancestors. As for your teeth, and gravity: Jesus. You fall apart.
Thank heavens, then, for Withered Hand, who plies us with gorgeous pop solace and punchlines vis-a-vis this sorry yet celebratory state of affairs. The Edinburgh-based DIY alt-rock bard, also known as Dan Willson, explores the vagaries of ageing (guilt, temptation, cough medicine, death, and love in its myriad complex forms) on his beautiful second album, New Gods - from a piano-fried rock 'n' roll rant about life's incendiary passage ('Heart Heart'), to a cracked-Americana ode to quiet ardour and mortal fear ('Life Of Doubt'). It is enlightening, wry and devastating, but most of all, it's life-affirming - a kick up the arse for the maudlin among us; a reminder that the brightness of the right (or wrong) smile is all we need.
It's wise as well, but never preaching. Cardinal opener 'Horseshoe' sets the tone with its gilded indie tribute to not knowing your own strength ("did you put a horseshoe in my glove?"), facing down loss, and being haunted by the ghosts of words ("for every song, a song unsung") - while several tracks riff on the truism that we don't change as we age; we just get used to it. 'Black Tambourine's glorious, choral-rock anthem states, "I'm older now, but I feel the same", and that's preceded by Horseshoe's droll observation that, at heart, we're all still teenagers ("Here I stand with a face like somebody died, when you're ignoring me"). There are other deadpan moments too, not least the panicky, punk-strutting narcissism of 'Heart Heart' ("I look into your eyes and all I see is my reflection, and it turns me on") and some comically literal verse on 'Black Tambourine' ("I'll sing it twice / I'll sing it twice").
If Willson's remarkable 2009 debut, Good News, heavily referenced his religious upbringing (he was raised as a Jehovah's Witness in Bishop's Stortford), then its follow-up eyes rather more fiery celestial deities – namely the sun and the stars in the sky. The title track is an exquisite bass-and-tambourine psalm that gives the long-player its bearings ("I counted lucky stars above a field in Switzerland / New Gods for this ungodly man") and salutes the cosmos' universal charms ("Somewhere just out of view, above our heads there burned a flame / now tell me we are not all the same"). That warm sentiment illuminates the record: 'Horseshoe's radiance ("did you paint the lustre on the sun for everyone?"); 'Black Tambourine's (re)assurance ("isn't everyone lonely? No"); the sun-scorched trilogy that chronicles Willson's trip to SXSW / America in 2011 - 'Love Over Desire' (say no more), 'King Of Hollywood' (dedicated to his long-time ally King Creosote) and 'California' (a balmy homage to cough medicine abuse, cicadas and impending doom).
"Willson established his musical journey at a late age of thirty, exploring his talent during a period of loss and gain that saw the death of a close friend and the birth of his first child. These experiences have aided him to craft the brutal honesty portrayed in his material. The announcement of New Gods comes five years after the release of critically-acclaimed debut album, Good News, which found the visual artist expressing themes of faith, religion and lust, with a humble and fractured voice, reminiscent of Keaton Henson, complimented by simple folk and indie-rock structures, and carefully formed by layers of plucking banjos and acoustic guitars.
This long-awaited second album really displays the length Willson has traveled in terms of musical ability. Since initially venturing onto the music scene, his immense dedication is reflected through each and every one of the beautifully constructed and recorded songs on the album. New Gods also features a variety of guest appearances, from Pam Berry to members of Belle & Sebastian and Frightened Rabbit, adding more enticing flavours to a heavenly and thought-provoking experience.
The opening track "Horseshoe" devices an image of intense emotion, referring to a nervous love, fear of loss and the questioning of death: "Tell me was it easy to pretend like nobody is dead, that nobody you love would ever die?" A song with the capability to awaken parts of the brain that were previously inactive, its thoughtful lyrics are accompanied by an upbeat melody, making it a perfectly arranged introduction and providing a quality that lasts throughout the whole album. This quality is injected straight into the veins of next track, "Black Tambourine", which takes us into a disparate dimension, with riffs soaring in the background that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Beach Boys album. The timeless style throws us into the feeling of summer nostalgia, a theme also explored on "Between True Love and Ruin".
New Gods is beautifully and shrewdly constructed to perfectly show-case Willson’s ability to provoke a variety of emotions in a range of musical platforms. Every song is a gift that is guaranteed to leave you fulfilled."
Dan Wilson's debut album as Withered Hand was a wonderfully low-key affair in the grand tradition of Scottish troubadours like Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame and King Creosote. It was hard to believe that he hadn't picked up a guitar until he was 30 because it sounded like he had been writing world-weary songs for decades.
New Gods might initially seem like an altogether different beast, but it really isn't. Wilson is joined by an impressive lineup of fellow Scots such as King Creosote, Eugene Kelly from the Vaselines and members of Frightened Rabbit and Belle & Sebastian, which collectively adds a whole new level of jangle this time around. Yet he's retained all those things that made his debut so memorable: he's still no stranger to melancholy and his turn of phrase is still second to none. He's definitely comfortable in these new clothes.
The songs are still a little rough around the edges despite getting some polish from the production of Tony Doogan, who has done similar things for Mogwai and Hey Rosetta, and they touch upon some of Wilson's musical travels. Ultimately though, the focus is still on the human condition, which he gazes upon sardonically.
With its singalong choruses and eminent likeability, New Gods is the kind of album that will only add to his reputation as being one of Scotland's finest.
"Nearly twenty years ago, around the time of the release of Blur’s The Great Escape and Oasis’ (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory either the NME or (the now-defunct) Melody Maker carried an advert that suggested those responsible for it more than knew their market. ‘Granny’ll buy you Blur and Oasis for Christmas,’ read the advert. ‘Buy Garbage now.’ And many people did buy that début Garbage album.
I bring this seemingly trivial anecdote up because there’s three albums coming out that I think you should own, each of them brilliant and very different. One is Beck’s Morning Phase, another is Pharrell Williams’ G I R L and the third is Withered Hand’s New Gods. Like the other two albums, it has been a bit of a wait for Dan Willson’s sophomore album (don’t leave off the second ‘l’!), five years since his début Good News.
And it’s been worth the wait. This is a more than worthy successor to Good News, and the gap was bridged by the release of two very fine EPs in 2012, Heart Heart and Inbetweens. It’s more of an upbeat sounding record, and the two opening tracks ‘Horseshoe’ and ‘Black Tambourine’ give a flavour of what to expect, with a song as evocative of the West Coast of America as it is of DiY jangle-pop.
Make no mistake, it’s still Dan Willson and he’s still got a way with a tune and as fine a lyricist as the Isles have produced in many a year. Even with the impressive list of people who he’s played with and those who collaborate on the record (members of eagleowl, Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit and The Vaselines, amongst many others), it’s a record of someone who’s travelled the world playing his songs and that’s seeped into the greater confidence on display here. Perhaps the standout track is ‘King of Hollywood’ about a night out in LA with his friend and mentor King Creosote.
No doubt there’ll have to be some idiot who’ll grumble about Mr. Willson and his fine supporting case stepping into a proper studio for the first time, with noted producer Tony Doogan at the helm. These people should keep their opinions to themselves. It’s an accomplished and polished album, and all the better for it.
I’m sure you can get Pharrell or Beck later on. Buy Withered Hand now."
(God Is In The TV, 5/5)
"With a title that near-anagrams its 2009 precursor Good News, New Gods sees Withered Hand (aka Edinburgh-based songwriter Dan Willson) gently shuffle aspects of his sound around, producing an album that’s distinct from yet recognisably connected to what came before. Production choices inspire the most noticeable alterations, with markedly more polish and a plethora of radio-friendly touches imparted by time in a “proper studio” with producer Tony Doogan.
It’s a shift that provokes mixed feelings. On opener Horseshoe, amongst others, it helps the material soar, urging you to sing along with the lyrical sucker punches. But elsewhere the shininess risks diminishing Willson’s individualism, threatening to draw attention away from the subtlety, intimacy and endearing awkwardness that typically flavours his songwriting. But that’s a minor complaint: throughout, New Gods affirms Willson’s superlative abilities, with highlights ranging from the airport insecurities of Love Over Desire to the communal courage expressed in closer Not Alone."
(The Skinny, 4/5)
"Edinburgh’s Dan Willson has been recording and performing as Withered Hand for more than five years now, but his second album New Gods looks set to be something of a belated breakthrough. Willson’s music has been rather too easily categorised as winsome indie-pop, and his imposing but faltering voice, combined with strummed acoustic guitars and the occasional slice of Byrdsian twang certainly place him in a certain lineage.
New Gods is produced by Tony Doogan, the Scottish producer perhaps most well known for his work with Belle and Sebastian and The Delgados. The music here also takes an occasional left-turn into country pastiche that recalls the dry-witted brilliance of the much-missed Broken Family Band.
Yet there is also something else at play here. Song titles such as The King Of Hollywood and California suggest transatlantic preoccupations and it is often US acts that his music most resembles. Vocally, Willson shares an untutored, raw impact with Jeff Mangum, and there is also some of the imaginative melodic flair of contemporary bands such as Avi Buffalo and The Shins. There are also some unexpected moments of both delicacy and bold cinematic flight in the arrangements here, from the delightful pizzicato strings and choral backing vocals of the title track, to the soaring horns of Between Love and Ruin (a song that performs a nimble balancing act on a tightrope between sentiment and schmaltz).
The album also has an impressive cast of guest musicians, surely testament to the respect with which Willson is now viewed by both his peers and his predecessors. There are appearances from Black Tambourine’s Pam Berry (and a track is even named in honour of that cult band), Eugene Kelly of The Vaselines, King Creosote and members of Belle and Sebastian and Frightened Rabbit. The long gestation between Withered Hand’s 2009 debut Good News and New Gods seems to have resulted in a carefully considered record that often sounds beautiful.
This is a high quality collection of songs, full of memorable moments, from the heartwarming and soaring horn-laden finale of Not Alone to the crisp, infectious jangle of singles Horseshoe and Black Tambourine. There’s also space for the explosive, urgent Heart Heart, a longstanding live favourite that proves equally irresistible in recorded form. Willson does not always resist some residual indie-rock cliches (na-na-na singalong codas, ever-increasing thick block textures of guitar strumming), but it’s possible to indulge him some of these familiar tropes due to the generosity and creativity with which he works on many of these songs.
Willson also proves to be a master of the immediately compelling opening lyric. Opening track Horseshoe begins with some delightful word play (“Here I go, pigeon toed, to the featherweight fight”) and the song provides a perfect overture to a set that successfully deploys all the key resources of songwriting, luxuriating in the sound of words and feel of phrases as well as in the inherent drama and humour of Willson’s narratives. Sometimes, Willson’s tales take wryly autobiographical turns, not least at the very outset of Love Over Desire, where Willson protests ‘I’m not getting on that silver bird until my guitar goes in to the hold!’. Like Mark Kozelek on Sun Kil Moon’s Among The Leaves, Willson has here used some of the more prosaic, repetitive details of a musician’s life as a springboard for some touching and imaginative songwriting.
New Gods plays a delicate balancing act in retaining some of the whimsy and homespun qualities of DIY indie, whilst also reaching out for something broader and less enclosed. It is at once assured and endearingly self deprecating. It has an open hearted appeal that just might make Withered Hand a household name."
"It’s not hard to see why Dan Willson, aka Withered Hand, was quick to be labelled ‘anti-folk’ when he first appeared circa-2008: everything about him cried ramshackle and raw. There were the grainy old YouTube videos of Willson playing along with members of Meursault at an Edinburgh house party; the acoustic guitar, plastered with the logo of K Records and other indie stickers; the voice, on first listen frail and injured, and the underdog tales, during which you’re sure that Willson is never more than a heartbeat away from taking himself down a peg or two.
But scratch beneath the surface, and the tag doesn’t seem so fitting. The voice, with time, becomes warm and lovely, as meek and sweet as a wish in a well. Superb debut set Good News was a search for substance, for identity and kinship, for spirituality and love. What, in this hyper-connected, post-everything age of absurdity, could be more societal and folky than the anxiety of social awkwardness?
Album number two, New Gods, doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Willson is still capable of turning out the loserisms on request, evidenced by song titles such as “Fall Apart” and “Life of Doubt” (indeed, he describes himself as ‘pigeon-toed’ on the record’s opening line), but he has clearly spent the intermittent five years refining his craft, returning with a sound that’s fuller without sacrificing the tunes, and songs which are more philosophical than slapstick. Willson has taken another step away from the anti-folk misnomer, determinedly embracing a wonderful brand of Byrdsian jangle-pop and in the process, producing a record which makes up for the frustratingly long wait with aplomb.
Good News reflected on a childhood spent as a Jehovah’s Witness and formative years chasing punk music and failed romance. This retrospection returns occasionally – the brilliant “Fall Apart”, in which Willson regrets the adolescent tragedy of feigned indifference – but his pen flows more contemporaneously and broadly here. There are tales from the road, the dustbowl Americana of “California” and the gorgeous harmonies of “Love Over Desire”, and he takes aim once more at the preciousness of organised religion on “King of Hollywood” (“Some of you should get with my God/he hates about everything”). Each song is delivered with customary wit, perhaps less ascerbic than on Good News, but equally rich and self-probing.
And while the takeaway from the debut was the one-liners, New Gods is all about the music. The sound has more depth, yes, but nothing is over-egged. There are more hooks than a pirates’ convention, and subime melodies throughout. A few reference points fly past your ears more than once. Darren Hayman has frequently performed with Withered Hand, and Hefner’s influence on tracks such as “Between Love and Ruin” is marked. The classic power pop of Big Star and the Byrds can be heard in the arpeggios and jangles of “Black Tambourine”, while “Fall Apart” and “Horseshoe” have a surprising hint of 90s indie pop about them.
New Gods is an unusually good album, and is best encapsulated by the title track, the kind of song R.E.M. lived in the shadow of for a quarter of a century. “Now tell me we are not all the same,” goes Willson’s stargazing philosophy, slotting beautifully between the dreamy rolls of mandolin and bass. It’s one of the loveliest songs you could ever expect to hear; a lucid moment of perfection from a songwriter whose creativity continues to feed off his own imperfections."
(The Line Of Best Fit)
"At the End Of The Road festival in 2010, Canadian artist Woodpigeon played a number of sets across the stages. At each they turned out their own lambent material but also threw in a striking cover: a torturously heartsick exercise in melodious loathing that turned out to be Withered Hand’s ‘No Cigarettes’.
Dan Wilson, who to all intents and purposes is Withered Hand, had released a couple of EPs as well as his debut album (Good News upon which the title of this second full length appears to be a neat inversion) in Scotland by that time and was slowly gaining a name for himself in 'indiepop' circles as an acoustic troubadour you could legitimately connect with, a serious, damaged but playful guy-with-a-guitar that took all the bluster and self-importance of the likes of Frank Turner and his ilk and flushed it, without fuss, down the toilet where it belongs.
While Good News was a steadfastly lo-fi affair, Wilson’s strumming accompanied by the odd bit of banjo or ramshackle drum, sometimes a stray harmony here or there, New Gods is a fairly large step from the streets of Edinburgh out into the Technicolor widescreen of California and beyond.
It’s largely a tour album, Wilson employing his self-deprecating charm on the Norman Blake-esque ‘Love Over Desire’, where “the travel pussy” is “another nail in the coffin of monogamy”. It sees him ruefully trundling through the States, offering up a doe-eyed but genuine ode of broken devotion to a misused loved one; he treads similar ground on the more upbeat ‘King of Hollywood’ a tale of On The Road camaraderie that’s both bright and amiable, as well as on ‘California’, a harmonious, reverb drenched and horsewhip beaten drone that’s pleasingly paranoid (“White light white heat all night / heart beating in my chest like a jackhammer”) and, with the late arrival of a mandolin, has all the makings of a great mid-period REM tune.
Things get considerably less sun-flecked and discernibly more shadowy on songs like the harmonica-driven ‘Life of Doubt’ which is propped up on the chilling twin couplets “I don’t want you to hold a mirror up to me / I know the state that I am in” and “I wanna give up the ghost / but the ghost won’t give up me so easily”. Though a million miles away in tone, it’s reminiscent of some of Allo Darlin’s best work – particularly ‘Tallulah’ from their Europe album.
On the darker side there’s also the moving title track, which begins with an Alex Chilton guitar groove and offers such bald statements as “I never said I was good”, then develops into a piece of studio brilliance. The wordless chorus genuinely soulful, the inspired lyric “I counted lucky stars above a field in Switzerland / New Gods for this unholy man”. It also offers the defining moment of the album, Wilson assuring his friend who claims “I used to be beautiful / and now I’m barely plain” – “Someday you will be beautiful again”. Its naïve positivity is palpable and admirable.
Ultimately, Withered Hand’s music is always about relationships and how Wilson perceives himself within them, whatever the context. It’s where he has the most to offer, as on the Babybird-meets-Fanclub swoon of single ‘Horseshoe’ where jangling guitars throb like swollen hearts and Wilson offers a typically optimistic line in the shape of “Nobody in love will ever die” as well as the golden syrup of “I wear your love like a souvenir”. The sheen of considered production and augmented instrumentation has done him no disservice – yet there are moments when you may wish the scale were a little smaller;
Closer ‘Not Alone’, with its splashes of steel pedal and broad vocal swoop is rather a bombastic gesture – previously discreet horns flail and blast, carefully considered backing vocals and harmonies become a vast gang-chant. It’s wholesome, well-intentioned stuff but certainly a little overblown – and that’s not really where Withered Hand lives.
Elsewhere there is plenty to delight in. The apparent tribute to his friend Pam Berry ‘Black Tambourine’ is a C86 goody, popping, glowing and glimmering like Evan Dando without the dickhead factor; and the horn-led Americana of ‘Between Love and Ruin’ with its evocative lines – “As the last rays of summer split the windshield in two” and it’s late-August, love unrequited feel.
You’ll find a neat tonal departure on ‘Heart Heart’ with its flip-switching pace, scratchy rock racket and pop-punk drumlins. It’s exciting, loud and desperate, celebratory (“Hardcore hardcore / listening to the crowd roar”) and not a little bizarre (“All I can see is my reflection / and it turns me on”).
Dan Wilson was writing and recording like a highly evolved teen when he first picked up an acoustic guitar in his early thirties. Now, half a dozen or so years later he’s moved on apace. Let’s not throw around horrifying terms like ‘mature’ though – Wilson is still a charmed, charming fuck-up of the first order, his naivety only equaled by his contrasting melancholy. But on New Gods there’s a sense of logical progression, an aim of expression that might have been missing from some of his earlier work. While it may dismay some hardcore lo-fiers that Wilson has spread his wings, it must offer some satisfaction that hopefully very soon it’ll be Wilson himself playing ‘No Cigarettes’ to five thousand people rather than being praised and present by proxy."
(Drowned In Sound, 8/10)
"The songwriter otherwise known as Dan Willson, one plank of modern folk crew Fence Collective, has taken his time over this follow-up to 2009’s ‘Good News’ and it’s worked wonders – a mournfully drippy, strumming caterpillar is reborn a bright pop-rock butterfly. Drawing on the same sort of sunkissed sounds as the likes of Real Estate and Best Coast cut with sharp and melancholy humour, ‘New Gods’ is endlessly lovable stuff. The warmth and depth of the production is offset by Willson’s wavering, otherworldly voice on the likes of the richly twanging ‘Horseshoe’, and ‘Black Tambourine’ zings with Teenage Fanclub-ish exuberance. There’s still slight mawk on ‘Love Over Desire’, but the frisky and footloose likes of ‘King Of Hollywood’ and ‘Not Alone’ mark a new lease of life."
"Produced by Tony Doogan, whose high-profile successes on the Scottish music scene have included Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub, its guest roster includes the Belles’ Stevie Jackson and Chris Geddes, Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, the Vaselines’ Eugene Kelly and Willson’s long-standing sponsor and bandmate in the Fence Collective, King Creosote.
New Gods is a record whose amiably DIY musical quality is perfectly matched with a lyrical tone which is at once tuned to a laser-like precision and helped no end by a voice which sounds agonised but still hopeful at every turn. The opening Horseshoe is a bittersweet summertime anthem which couches love and death in the same context, and the highs and lows of romance are also celebrated in the country symphony of Love Over Desire.
King Of Hollywood is a lively country rag whose Grand Ole Opry is more Glasgow than Nashville, and California is a gorgeous solo piece steeped in Americana which crashes in like The Needle And The Damage Done, with Willson “strung out like some powder in a bag of skin” waiting for epiphany at a burger counter.
It’s an album to sink into the heart rather than demand the attention, with Willson’s perfectly pitched emotional tone welcoming us into “my picket fence heart” on Between True Love And Ruin, sidestepping into atypically punk-pop territory amid Heart Heart and finishing on the sea shanty gospel of Not Alone."
(The Scotsman, 5/5)
"Honesty and open-hearted souls are not particularly the staples of the indiepop domain, but then this probably isn't an indiepop record. What is it? It's the warmest, saddest, downright heartbreaking collection of songs you'll hear this year. It's destined to make everyone sit up and gather in the majesty of Withered Hand.
This is the bit where I'm supposed to mention the Fence Collective, I'm sure, but why waste time? "Nobody in love will ever die" sings Dan Willson on opener 'Horseshoe', and isn't that something to hang your hat on? 'Cos this record seems, to me at least, to deal with a whole load of emotions, worries and "issues" that someone approaching their late-30s, entering their 40s has to come to terms with.
Excuse me if I'm projecting, Mr Willson...
"Shift your paradigm," he sings on 'Black Tambourine', telling us that, as we go through life, our priorities might change, and yeah, we might be lonely, but then isn't everyone lonely? NO. Sing it, sister.
Half the time, I wonder if Wilson is deeply unhappy, whilst the other half I think he's finally at ease with the world, and how jealous I am of that. 'Love Over Desire' is such a schizophrenic song. Also: it might be about the fear of flying - who knows?
But there are genuine toe-tappers here. The Wurlitzer pop of 'King of Hollywood' (whilst it also might be about not liking flying - concept album?), is ACTUALLY REALLY FUNNY, in a tragi-comic way. Meanwhile, the agit-pop of 'Heart Heart' is almost as powerful here as it is live. This is no mope-fest, alright?
The music? Well, the music is an incredibly fine mixture of folk-pop and Americana. It sounds as though you could play it to your Mum if she'd had two brandies too many and was 'up for a party', but is also perfect for a night in on your own. That solitude is nowhere better illustrated than on the Tompaulin-esque 'California'.
Right at the heart of this album is probably the most precious love song you'll ever hear. 'Between Love and Ruin' might be hard to deal with, but through all the turmoil is the fact that, after everything, it's all going to be okay.
It isn't so much world-weariness that runs through throughout 'New Gods', more a bewilderment at growing older, and a longing for something to grab on to. Life is still good, after all, right, and right about now this album says more to me about my life than anything else around. I might have got it all horribly wrong, but, really, I don't care because having this record around the last few weeks has been wonderful. I get the feeling it'll be there for the rest of my life. Y'know... one of those albums.
'New Gods' is out on Fortuna Pop! on 10th March. It's more of an act of self-help than an exercise in buying a record, believe me."
(A Layer Of Chips)
"In 2009 an unknown musician named Dan Willson, under the moniker Withered Hand, came out of near musical obscurity to release a record of subtle beauty. This lush debut, entitled Good News, gained plaudits with everyone from Mojo to Rolling Stone; commending its sparse arrangements and intelligent lyrical style.
After five years away the Edinburgh troubadour is finally back with his much anticipated follow-up, and this time he's brought friends along for the ride. It's a veritable who's who of Scottish folk royalty including members of Frightened Rabbit, Belle & Sebastian and King Creosote; even the luxury of a proper studio and producer (The legendary Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Mountain Goats, Teenage Fanclub), is afforded this time round.
As the opening passages of New Gods greet the listener, the sound is almost unidentifiable as Withered Hand. Gone is the muddy instrumentation and tortured vocals which made the debut album what it was, replaced with a clean and increasingly confident full band sound; reminiscent of '90s indie-rock with heavy helpings of Manic Street Preachers at their most melodic. This is by no means to their detriment. What Willson illustrates on opener 'Horseshoe' and lead single 'Black Tambourine' is a stylistic versatility that many didn't expect to see exercised so freely on this follow-up LP. However, much like The Mountain Goat's on 'Tallahassee', this is a transitional record which sees a move away from lo-fi roots, taking the step-up to increased production and a fuller band sound.
That's not to say that this stylistic change is without its pitfalls. On 'Love Over Desire' there are moments where the increasingly melodic sound bounds its way into the realms of twee indie-pop at its most formulaic. Its chorus repeats "love, love, love, love" with frustrating frequency - but just when you think Willson has strayed too far from what made him such an intelligent and witty songwriter, he proclaims the following lyric with devilishly satirical delivery: "I put my hand in my pocket and forgot about the travel pussy, another flower on the coffin of monogamy." It's little sparks like this turn New Gods from a promising follow up, into a triumphant return.
The wonky alt-indie of 'King of Hollywood' shows the band's more quirky musicianship, and anti-hipster mentality ("I fell asleep watching a buzz band; some people were losing their shit, please say I'm misunderstood"). On 'Fall Apart' the sentimentality of young love is exposed with humbling honesty ("you said it was nothing, but to me it felt like everything alive"); a subject echoed on 'Between True Love and Ruin', this time with the wisdom which comes with years.
New Gods eases it's way to it's subtle climax with two of it's most stunning laments. 'Life of Doubt' is an Americana masterpiece about Willson's struggles with commitment; lashing out in self-sabotage when all he wants to do is fully throw caution to the wind ('I'm not one to sift for gold among the dirt of what was said'). The album's title track also features its strongest vocal performance. Here Willson is at his self-deprecating best on this piece of beautifully confessional storytelling, uttering stunning lyrics line after line ("New Gods for this ungodly man").
Although on the surface this sophomore record is a less vulnerable effort than his acclaimed debut, if the listener scratches even a little below the up-tempo melodies they will discover the same shambolic protagonist, struggling with the strife of everyday life which they fell in love."
(The 405, 7.5/10)
"Taking into consideration the current musical climate, you might think that there are enough tepid Mumford & Sons-esque rip offs to satiate the market well into the foreseeable future. Step aside Passenger, Nick Mulvey and any other chivalrous - yet appealingly emotionally vulnerable - singer-songwriters baring their souls in the charts at the moment. Scottish acoustic troubador Withered Hand is here to take the stereotype apart, throw the acoustic genre a lifeline and give it a much needed kick up the arse.
Plundering the best parts of the genre, Dan Wilson has got a knack for a catchy melody, accentuated by his distinctive falsetto vocal. Lyrically, he ups his game from 2009's 'Good News', narrating against a soundtrack formulated for impending sunny days. Production-wise it's tight, delivering a warm, fuzzy feeling that could plunge you head first back into that whole 'bloke and his guitar' thing. Standout track 'Not Alone' rounds up proceedings with a breezy swagger and spectacular climax which cements New Gods as a forerunner for our summer playlists. It might only be March, but we hope for Withered Hand's sake, the weather co-operates."
(The Digital Fix, 8/10)
"Edinburgh-based singer Dan Willson obviously impressed a few folk with his 2009 debut Good News, as the helping hands on New Gods are fairly major. Production duties are taken on by Tony Doogan, who has worked with Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai and Belle And Sebastian. The latter band are represented by Stevie Jackson and Chris Geddes, Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison gets involved, as do Eugene Kelly from The Vaselines and Willson's former Fence Collective cohort King Creosote. Willson can veer from Americana to pop, from happiness to heartbreak, with ease. It's lo-fo but high-class, from jangling Black Tambourine, through the chaos of King Of Hollywood to the forlorn California, Dan's the man."
(The Scottish Express)
"The debut album of Edinburgh-based Withered Hand (aka Dan Willson), Good News, revealed a songwriter with strong potential. Spare but affecting arrangements, faintly subversive lyrics tossed out with casual ease, and one of those earnest, imperfect voices perfect for ramshackle folk songs all added up to suggest that Dan could give fellow Scotsman King Creosote a run for his money.
With New Gods, the rough edges of his debut, for better or worse, have mostly been sanded off. The stripped-down, bucolic quality of songs like 'Cornflake' and 'Love in the Time of Ecstasy' is largely gone, replaced with more ornate arrangements, while the album's moments of infectious energy, which could recall Bizarro-era The Wedding Present ('New Dawn'), have been preserved and expanded upon.
New Gods has its fair share of mid-tempo, contemplative tracks, as well as sing-along acoustic anthems in the vein of Frightened Rabbit, whose Scott Hutchison features on the album. The catchiness and chiming lead guitar of early single 'Black Tambourine' brings to mind a more restrained, folkier version of The Stone Roses' 'Elephant Stone'. Whereas Dan's singing was enjoyably rough-hewn on his debut, here he's noticeably more accessible, while retaining his penchant for creating unsettling dissonance between lyrics and music.
On upbeat opener 'Horseshoe' he sings: "We could kill our friends/ We can sing a song that never ends again/ Tell me, was it easy to pretend like nobody is dead? And nobody you love will ever die?" Lyrically, New Gods is bleak at times, even when the music is energetic, as on barn-burner, 'Heart Heart,' probing the uneasy balance of modern life between hope and anxiety.
Compared with Good News, the more embellished arrangements of New Gods have mixed success. 'Love Over Desire' repeats "Love, love, love" in sing-along fashion ad nauseum; the doleful 'California' feels like being doused with cold water as it stretches out its refrain ("Caa-li-for-nee-yaah"), especially following the sprightly 'King of Hollywood.' But when Dan allows more space in the mix, focusing on the purity of his voice and the quiet power of his lyrics, he hits gold, as on the title track.
It's no surprise that members of Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, and King Creosote appear on New Gods; one can hear their influence on different tracks pretty clearly. That's not much of a criticism, as Withered Hand has produced an album that's memorable and often very catchy, while retaining his own distinctive voice."
"New Gods, the second album from Withered Hand, is a folk-rock ode to the many facets of life. Withered Hand, otherwise known as Scottish singer songwriter Dan Willson, has teemed up with producer Tony Doogan, who has previously worked with fellow Scots Teenage Fanclub and Belle & Sebastian. An eleven-track explorative journey, Willson muses on the transient natures of life and love in his latest musical offering. Its rawest, most melancholic moments encourage reflective introspection, whereas there are some more anthemic, raucous tracks in which Dan Willson seems on top of the world. Each song has an anecdotal feel, as if they are all retelling parts of the same story, or are presenting an eclectic mix of emotions around the same event.
Album opener and first single ‘Horseshoe’ is a well crafted, melodic, folk song with a smattering of pop. Cries of “we can kill our friends” accompany a happy smiler of a chorus. It’s the sort of song you can imagine singing along to in the car on a summery day. ‘Black Tambourine’ follows, and is equally bright and happy. Jangling guitars evoke comparisons to psych-folk scousers The Coral. Lyrically, this feels quite introspective, with lines such as “I’m keeping myself alive, facing down the fear, I don’t know who I am, what’s the big idea.”
Third track in, the other, more mournful side of Willson’s personality begins to shine, with the sound taking a more melancholic turn. ‘Love Over Desire’ has slightly whining, fragile vocals accompanied by reflective strums of guitar. The word “Love” is repeated rather a lot in this track, which can feel a little irritating after a while. However, as soon as this sombre track is over, Withered Hand jumps back on the happy wagon with ‘King Of Hollywood’, which has an upbeat melody, complimented by optimistic sounds of an accordion in the background.
Constant jumps from sad to happy become a theme throughout New Gods, with the sad and lamenting ‘California’ being followed by the melodic and epic ‘Fall Apart’. Stand out track is ‘Life of Doubt’, which is, surprisingly, where Withered Hand is at his most vulnerable. Its raw production sounds pure and honest, with confessional lyrics of “I wanna give up the ghost but the ghost won’t give up me”; as far as sad songs go, this feels revealing and reflective, as if Willson is offering us a voyeuristic look into his soul.
After title track ‘New Gods’, which fits like a warm (if slightly depressing) glove, its as if Dan Willson’s friends have stepped in to bring him out of his mournful stupor in penultimate track, ‘Heart Heart’. It begins like most on the album, with strained vocals and strums of guitar. That is, until, there’s a massive shift, with a burst of fast-paced drums, one constant piercing note on piano and huge choral shouts of “whoa whoa”. This musical transformation is the most exciting moment on the album, and highlights the many sides of Willson’s musical personality.
New Gods is a long, winding journey of an album. It begins with happiness and optimism, feels mournful and reflective in the middle, before leading up to a life-affirming crescendo."