Woodpigeon - Songbook
Bill Cummings 13/03/2009
Calgary-hailing orchestral indie collective Woodpigeon are the latest slightly fey, literate, indie, vocal act to wash up on these fair shores. Following in the footsteps of former music writers turned front men Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson), and Cliff Jones (Gay Dad), Woodpigeon are led by sometime writer Mark Hamilton and their second album 'Songbook' details his trip from Edinburgh to Canada. Hamilton's vocals recall the subtle sensitivity of an M Ward, while his group's often pared back multi instrumental compositions are reminiscent of the bittersweet moments of Belle and Sebastian or the more mid-tempo cuts of The Hidden Cameras.
There is plenty to admire here, the Badly Drawn Boy-esque 'Piano Pieces for Adults' opens with wandering pianos, quivering vocals and clever, wry lyrics that keep catching you off guard undercutting them: constantly turning clichés on their head (“good things come to those who fake/don't be shy/don't be late”), when the sighing backings and porcupine guitar riffs roll into view at minute two it's delicious. The ridiculously titled 'In the Battle of the Sun Vs Curtains Sun Loses and We Sleep until Noon' is just gorgeous, shy shuffling drums and sweet cinnamon vocals are sung like a love letter: finger feathered by intricate arpeggios: it's the sound of the sun shining through the curtains as you cuddle up together with your loved one. '7th Fret Over Andres' is the centrepiece though: heartfelt and tender Hamilton's clever metaphors that try to express the confusion of love (“If I were a diplomat/I'd live wherever I'd put my hat/I'd buy an island just for you”) are drenched in aching seesaw melodies redolent of Eliot Smith. This is mirrored by the heart-melting 'Love in the Time of Hopscotch' or the seafaring character and wonky rhythm of 'Anna in the Clock Tower', which bears comparison with the work of the Decemberists.
The travelling theme runs through the spine of Songbook: thus this long player is an attempt by Hamilton to figure out what home meant to him. It's 're-experiencing our winters, driving across our vast expanses of prairie” So we have travelling songs like 'I Like in a Lot of Places' that winds from gypsy folk to violin led plaintive balladry, unrequited love is detailed on 'Cities of Weather' capturing the essence of the longing that grows in the pit of your stomach after wishing you'd spoken to that girl on the bus home.
Woodpigeon's Songbook isn't quite on the top shelf alongside titles by Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, and Fleet Foxes; despite its flashes of sweet quality, some editing was required: at 14 numbers this album is probably two or three tracks too long, and on repeated listens some of these songs do merge into one another. By the closing chapters Woodpigeon's sound becomes a little infective, twee and samey making you wonder whether the promise here is enough to differentiate Woodpigeon from the plethora of similar acts currently finding favour in this country. But dusted down and taken off its shelf Songbook's best moments are so tenderly observed, so expertly illustrated, that they offer enough to warm the coldest hearts.