There’s something to be said for Woodpidgeon’s latest release, Thumbtacks And Glue. The Calgary, Alberta collective, largely the project of singer-songwriter Mark Andrew Hamilton, has the ‘orchestral indie folk-pop’ genre on lock: Hamilton’s melodies are made up, in consequential order, of cues taken from Simon and Garfunkel, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, and The Decembrists.
The album sports the right song titles: a European city name, a run-on sentence, “(Insert Animal Here) Song,” and a song called Hermit. Lyrically, Thumbtacks And Glue blooms with the flowery language and serious implications about love that the indie public has come to expect.
So in that sense, Woodpidgeon have succeeded in amassing all of the right influences onto a single sonic plate. But sometimes, even having every ingredient doesn’t quite make a meal—and this is largely what happens here. On Thumbtacks And Glue Hamilton attempts, true to the title (ha), to put together everything that should theoretically make a hit indie folk album, but fails to provide what is ultimately the most important component: originality.
Case in point is Robin’s Song. The tune opens promisingly, with a dim, pattering, almost classical finger-picked guitar by way of Simon and Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa—and it continues this way melodically, producing one of the album’s most arresting and beautiful opening lines (“’Shoulda kissed you when I had the chanced” is a real sweet spot). Suddenly, Woodpidgeon give you a hint, just a glimpse of some gentle dissonance, like a good Sufjan Stevens melody would surely do, and then the drums give a rollicking KICK and the band comes in: hello, Colin Meloy!
But whereas many of the songs by the artists just mentioned are quite memorable, and often leave specific and intense impressions, Robin Song leaves more of a general lukewarm feeling, and it is hardly memorable at all. (Even directly after listening, it’s difficult to recall the precise chorus melody). The same is true for nearly every track on the record: while impressive, As Read In The Pine Bluff Commercial is too rhythmically complex and range-y to allow its narrative to take off, leaving us first grasping at words, and then bored; the colorful chords of album opener The Saddest Music In The World and its choral “oh” section are not quite jarring or exhilarating enough to make the folky waltz remarkable.
That’s not to say that this is in any way bad music. Thumbtacks And Glue displays numerous moments of good, engaging melody and crisp, simple lyricism. Robin Song continues with lyrics that are careful, direct, and striking. Similarly, on Hermit, Hamilton’s voice is fragile and rich, and his verse plays with dynamics in an exciting way. But it is, as always, the way that Woodpidgeon assemble their parts that sinks its potential: breathy “ahs,” relentlessly rising snare hits, and token folk string swells dull the sharpness of Hermit’s bare voice and guitar and make the song irreparably conventional. And again, despite Hamilton’s unique performance, it is still a rather difficult melody to distinguish from those of its neighbouring tracks.
It would be extreme to call Woodpidgeon ‘run of the mill,’ because in clear ways the band exceeds that. But with a ‘mill’ so full of bands with sounds much like Woodpidgeon’s, all trying to make it big in the indie music scene, Thumbtacks And Glue does not succeed in the way that it will, in the end, need to – by being memorable. All things considered, Hamilton needs to focus less on blending parts together, and more on growing his own food from scratch.