In the press blurb that accompanies Woodpigeon’s new LP Die Stadt Muzikanten, Hamilton writes of his grandmother and grandfather and their origins in Germany and Austria respectively. This sense of the past, of the old, presumably motivated the consistent crackle that overlays the opening title track. Whilst it’s an effect I’m far from fond of, it makes more sense here than when it near-ruined the quaint ‘Feedbags’ on Songbook. A subtly evolutionary record rather a shock to Woodpigeon’s sound, Die Stadt Muzikanten has the band essentially using the same tricks as before to cover new ground.
To say “same tricks” implies that the record is a retread, which it isn’t. Besides which, let’s remind ourselves what Woodpigeon’s tricks have always been – employing a mostly acoustic but huge range of instruments to create earnest, often fey, and frequently wonderful songs. Album number three shows Hamilton and co pretty much as capable as ever of creating reliably pleasing music. Indeed, these songs frequently shine, as in moments like when ‘Unmissable Grey, Mixed Paint’ segues through a minor explosion into the ringing ‘Duck Duck Goose’ (yes, Woodpigeon’s titles have not become more normal). By way of criticism it can only really be say that for me, the greatest heights of the previous two albums haven’t quite been matched here.
But there are highs here, for sure. ‘Our Love Is As Tall As The Calgary Tower’ features a great male-female duet let down only slightly by one or two mildly corny lyrics. ‘Such a Lucky Girl’ is arguably the record’s centrepiece, suitably epic at over 7 minutes and featuring much more raucous guitar than Woodpigeon are generally associated with. Excellent string arrangments, harmonies and guitar work are all over the place – among a few really new sounds is some intriguing electronic noise on the echoey ‘Empty-Hall Sing-Along’ which for just a second, almost reminded me of Bloc Party, would you believe it.
To me, one of the key things that makes Woodpigeon Woodpigeon is the inherent contrast at the core of the sound. Hamilton can sound so small, so frequently unsure of himself, and yet with this release the music has become, if anything, even more thrillingly epic and widescreen than before. Hamilton is, more than ever, a little voice in a hurricane – take for example, ‘The Street Noise Gave You Away’ in which he’s literally nearly drowned out by the bombast. But his songwriting is keen, and so I for one am still with him.