The tender blend of lo-fi folk and baroque pop Woodpigeon proffer is succour for the soul, buoyant joy with a bittersweet sting. Piloting the Calgary collective since 2005, the prolific Mark Hamilton, or “Mark Andrew of the Hamiltons” as he styles himself, is an inventive but instinctively diarising songwriter, conjuring an adept orchestral intimacy with sweeping songs that span sanguinity and sorrow.
Thumbtacks and Glue opens in expansive but sombre mood with ‘The Saddest Music in the World’ – according to Hamilton, “those songs we sing that don’t get heard”. With resounding insistence, the swelling guitars build to a plaintive payoff: a plea, a heartfelt disclosure, to someone missing the message, not listening: “You are the reason I sing”. There’s great poignancy in pining, particularly when the by-product is as quenching and enriching as Woodpigeon’s music. These tracks might not be the means to a yearned-for end, but the elusive muse is a creative boon.
Showcasing an impressive spectrum of styles, Thumbtacks and Glue ranges from the fragile to the fibrous, thin and wistful to brawny and robust. Two of the quickest hits, however – ‘Red Rover, Red Rover’ and ‘Sufferin’ Suckatash’ – pitch somewhere in between, and use the gradient to great effect. The former is an upbeat, elliptical lament blessed with arcs that sweep and swoop until it’s hard to tell the rise from the fall. The latter is a little more lonesome, with prominent percussion contributing to an unfamiliar melancholia before emotional release comes cascading from the chorus and guitar, eloquently cast to dispel the cold.
Even the most sparing accompaniment, pastel shading under a recounting of reclusion in ‘Hermit’, crescendos impeccably, the gushing culmination dropping into fuzzed-out choral singing. Rarely have regret and sadness sounded so lilting and lusciously melodious.
Indeed, given how immaculately lovely the music is, it’s easy to overlook both Hamilton’s craft as a composer and the stories that comprise the songs. The lyrical specificity of his songwriting is a prize characteristic: local detail to match broader themes, seeing the profound in the particulars. ‘As Read in the Pine Bluff Commercial’ is gossamer-soft but barking mad, a gently macabre tale of attempted resurrection set in a cemetery on Sunday 12th, “the only day that it rained in June”. Subtle precision points contribute to the sense of sincerity that make it so easy to empathise with the sentiments of these stirring songs.
Also at risk of under-appreciation is Hamilton’s always-excellent singing. On ‘Little Wings’, where the lead vocals are ceded to another, the steady vitality of Hamilton’s clean-cut delivery is missed between choruses. The gauziest song of the set, like first light on a misty morning, here the heartbreak comes closest to the surface. “Love causes pain”, he sings simply, “But it comes to me and it falls on me”. Even so, these are songs for optimists cast down, once-cheerful lovers spurned, not smarting misanthropes or narcissistic cynics.
If the word, written in cursive, resembles a roller coaster, Woodpigeon the band run the gamut of emotions on each release. The wandering pondering of the title track, saved until last, is a gentle comedown from earlier vigour, the album evaporating in sighs and strums. Every record Hamilton makes sounds personal, trimmed with little details, pretty elation stained with pain in its paeans. Thumbtacks and Glue is no less nuanced or nourishing, and every song is satisfying. Undulating orchestration, the lift and swell, matches Mark Andrew Hamilton’s eccentric lyrical slant and seraphic singing to produce immaculate and endearing music.