WOODPIGEON'S 'THUMBTACKS + GLUE'
by Mary Christa O'Keefe
Hand axes. Watts Towers. Cornell’s boxes. Sirk’s painterly cathartic tearjerkers. Rimbaud’s Bohemian Life. Queen’s 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. To all quixotic human enterprises built for no purpose but purpose itself, things put together with emotional spittle and creational sweat that bellow or whisper “I’m here; we’re here” into the Void, add the latest effort from the incomparable Woodpigeon.
For almost a decade and across five albums, Mark Hamilton’s principal engine of invention has been Woodpigeon. Mark once told me that he named his band Woodpigeon because, “I thought it was the most beautiful word I’d ever heard”. And Woodpigeon became a search for replicating that thrill of elemental, existential beauty in a sonic context, a dowsing rod that dipped over splendid choices as he laboured over chords and words.
Yes, laboured. Don’t be fooled by the effortless majesty of Thumbtacks + Glue. We’ll never really know long Mark spent sculpting this record, how he sung it into being from nothingness into its substantial somethingness. How he wove together voices and notes and rhythms and obsessive little instrumental and production thingies that make no sense at the time except to the craftsman to carve out these hauntingly gorgeous aural vistas. How he’s the most patient impatient creator I’ve ever known. How he digs and digs with a song until he hits bedrock, then he scratches at it some more, until his fingers are bleeding and sore, until he finds an even more subterranean place for the song to go. It’s impossible to know; each album is its own rabbit’s hole for the creator. Who can fathom how far into their own personal underworld an artist must descend to give us under an hour of our listening lives?
And who can calculate how much that hour of art means to the receiver who responds to it?
If Thumbtacks + Glue is fundamentally about construction – the hope that building something with all your heart and fingerprints matters to someone, somewhere – it’s because it’s fundamentally about bonds: the ones that hold us to each other, all the promises we make to honour the primal structures of human connection, our shared oversoul. We’ll hold it together. We’ll build something together.
Connectivity is supposedly the name of the 21st century game, which may be why a misfit Alberta boy heard a call of kinship that took him to another continent, miles away from the big cerulean Prairie sky, its palette of neon yellow canola and bleached wheat and sage, and its endless sprawl of big box stores and samey suburban split-levels. He dreamt of this other world, a wildly romantic Bohemia, and having reached its old European stomping grounds and finding only remnants, decided to rebuild. You don’t have to escape reality so much as be your own avatar to make it happen. You are your own Second Life.
The result of this sojourn is Thumbtacks + Glue. So sweet; so aching. Every note and word feels inevitable, yet takes you completely by surprise. I dare you to hear the pivot in the middle of ‘Sufferin’ Suckatash’ when the song billows from a Spanish-inflected pop song into a knee-bendingly elating statement of love and not be moved. Darkly glossy female voices – heavenly choir, muses, or Greek chorus? – raise the stakes of a childhood game of selection spilled into adulthood in ‘Red Rover, Red Rover’. The title track is a bristling lullaby that recapitulates the kind of Everyperson ponderings, dark and light, of countless sleepless nights. Even the spaces on the record are eloquent, pauses for feeling to interpolate.
The melodic madness of it all! Oh, the fear and the glory in declaring yourself; be it to the one you love or an unknown listener you hope recognizes you, and recognizes himself or herself in you and what you make.
I am here, we are all here!
And, further, these exact words of Mark’s from the album’s opener: “You are the reason I sing.”