Morning Hands’ self-titled LP sounds as though someone’s Dungeons and Dragons wizard character made an ‘80s synth-pop version of his spellbook.
Maybe that’s a bombastic statement for the opening sentence of a review, but once I got to track four, “Moving Through Water,” I knew my initial inklings were correct; the whole album shimmers with folkloric mysticism, from the chorus of opener “Santa Fe” to the final track’s Stranger Things-esque opening riff.
The former (I let the right one in/before the meal could be finished) had me wondering if Patrick Tabor (vocals and lyrics) and Douglas Du Fresne (music) were purposefully referencing the 2008 Swedish romantic horror film Let The Right One In, or, possibly, if they were paying homage to Elijah, every Jewish kid’s favorite Passover visitation. Such is the power of synth-pop: it can pull from a variety of inspirations beyond the obvious without sounding like the music version of a Scholastic I Spy book. It can inspire the sci-fi scaries just as easily as it can the aww shucks goofiness of literally any ‘80s teen TV show.
This is why albums like Charly Bliss’s Younger Now can exist in tandem with Morning Hands’ self-titled without one seeming like the “right” way to use a synth, and why it (hopefully) appears to me as if more pastiche-loving bands have started to gravitate towards synth pop/rock as opposed to psych rock (please god).
“Moving Through Water” gleefully leans in to the fantasy analogies, with a verse that accuses some unknown enemy of scanning every angle from your teeth to your claws/the corners of your mouth reveal your sinister plots. The chorus is delivered with a little less of a wink, but still uses similar inspiration to explain the discomfort of seeing someone’s betrayal coming a mile away (I know I sense what’s been gathering around me/It feels like a curse from another century).
“Gagged and Bound,” a standout from the second half of the album, feels like the song two storybook children would sing before encountering a witch while skipping through the woods. Tabor’s voice is at its best here, switching seamlessly from sing-song (a cut of life too big to fit/your little hands in oven mitts) to a growly troll-under-the-bridge moment during the song bridge. Its bouncy-ball synth backing affords the last few songs of the album the energy it needs to end strong, though “Gagged” and “I Wanted You” are more of a power duo than anything, making closer “World of Color” seem like the odd one out even if, thematically, it makes sense to end an album so concerned with metaphor and mysticism on more of an introspective note.
“I Wanted You” is one of the most straightforward songs on the album in terms of lyrics — the title itself is pretty self-explanatory — but a little breather from the more overt fantasy elements was necessary, I think, to keep the LP from slipping too far into concept or one-off territory. And the song still brings forth some great lines without it (we’ve both been so wrong/some forces just can’t coexist/now I’m disgusted/that I’ve let it come to this) that are elevated by Tabor’s self-aware delivery that never shies away from wringing every emotional shift he can from a single rhyme scheme.
All in all, whether this was a fun lyrical experiment or just the lens through which Tabor sees the world, the album is cohesive, atmospheric, and most of all fun, a triumph in any genre. Plus, the album art is — and there’s no other way to say this — sick as hell.