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The Shaky Hands - The Shaky Hands

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Artist: The Shaky Hands

Album: The Shaky Hands

Label: Holocene

Review date: May. 7, 2007

A friend who lives in Portland played The Shaky Hand’s self-released CD-R EP for me around the time it was released in 2004. Impressed by their songwriting skills – packaged in the same thick, nostalgic Pabst halo as this friend’s Polaroids – I made a point of seeing them two years later when they came through Davis. They played at a local pub notable only for its (short-lived) affiliation with the campus radio station and having "White Light/White Heat" on the jukebox. A couple of songs into their set, I walked in to find a three-piece playing to a mostly-seated townie audience. Frontman Nick Delffs didn’t stop moving throughout the set, and even seemed to have little choreographed dance moves for certain lines from each song. What amazed me most, however, wasn’t just the huge energy they packed for a short West Coast tour, but the way in which each song seemed to grow out of the last. Although it’s taken a couple of years and some line-up changes, their first, self-titled full length is a solid and modest, but often brilliant collection of songs on the nascent Holocene label that both fulfills the EP’s promise and ably captures the energy and intimacy of the band’s live performances.

While the band frequently sounds reigned-in – as if they’re still learning how to accommodate the two members they’ve gained in the meantime by playing with more restraint – this ultimately works to their advantage. What stands out aren’t individual performances, but the deliberate, thought-out these arrangements themselves. Mayhaw Hoons’ bass playing and Colin Anderson’s drumming form a solid, elastic unit throughout the album, enough on songs like “Hold It Up,” “Host Yr Day,” and “Why And How Come” to provoke spontaneous kitchen dance creations. The well-defined roles played by each instrument allow the band to get incredible mileage out of slight flourishes: check the sparing Rhodes on “Maker Make,” the cello on the chorus of “Clapping Song,” the flutes bolstering “Another World,” or even the unusually scribbly guitar work on “Why and How Come.”

Dellfs' voice is a major focus throughout the album, delivering gnomic truths with equal parts resignation and insight. The opening lines to “The Sleepless” are typical: “Sing it / It’s lovely / Hit me like a stone / Some trees they fall down / But I know some will grow.” His singing style bears comparison to Neil Young's just about as much as Devendra Banhart’s compares to Marc Bolan’s – that is, it does, but with tons of qualifications. Most significantly, Dellfs’ voice distinguishes itself by its foreignness; an instrument restlessly sliding across the scale, it often sounds like nothing so much as a faltering bagpipe. One moment he produces a rich, consistent tone, and the next he sounds flat and woody, as if he were singing off-mic. While these descriptions of lyrical content and singing style suggest an Indie Rock band in line with the current crop – i.e., post-Animal Collective nature bro-downs and Neutral Milk Hotel-derived emotional displacement – The Shaky Hands focus on the formal possibilities of rock music, discovering pop structures that exist in memory and figuring out why and how they work.

In a way, The Shaky Hands embody the reason bummed suburbanites from across the country make the trek to Portland: if this music’s any indication, it’s a place where one can find the kind of supportive community that encourages and cultivates the deep patina these compositions bask in. If a slow music movement emerges in the next couple of years, these guys will be at the forefront.

By Brandon Bussolini

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