On Lunglight, the Shaky Hands try to push themselves to become something larger than a hippie-leaning, unassuming sweet little indie-pop band from Portland. And in doing so, they’ve stepped outside their strengths and, save for a few choice moments, produced an awkward-sounding, misguided second album.
The Hands got the attention of the Portland crowd with their pretty, digestible sound and free-floating lyrics, which led to the minor success of their self-titled debut in 2007. It didn’t resonate across the country quite as much as it did in their hometown — some saw the band’s listing its main influence as the weather as a perfect example of indie rock’s focus on irrelevant and banal topics. The Shaky Hands don’t desert meteorology on Lunglight, but they turn the obsession into a case for global warming and globally conscious politics. With lyrics like “And in the pourin’ rain what will you wear/ cause we took all your things” and “Hard rains fallen you’ve been deceived/ just keep on eating, you can’t believe/ storms are taking everything,” the band tries to turn a seemingly irrelevant topic into a matter of life and death.
A gloomy environmentalist album is fine if there’s enough good music to back it up. But the Shaky Hands are not a band that thrive in the minor key, and on some tracks they seem utterly lost, forgetting entirely how to construct a song. Not surprisingly, they turn back to the free-love, happy nature shit on tracks like “No Say” (“You’re different it’s okay/Don’t matter anyway”) and especially “You’re the Light” (“We could be free in the country/ Far from the city lights”). The occasional breaks into a political conscience don’t make up for the predominant flatulence of the band’s music and lyrics.
The faux-darkness does allow for the Shaky Hands to occasionally touch the distortion pedal, and they show of some unexpected flair once they do. The edgier ends of “Show Me Your Life” and “Wake the Breathing Light” are the highlights of an otherwise soggy album, and they show that the Hands actually have some sing-along power. As a band whose biggest source of praise so far has been its unpretentiousness, the Shaky Hands may be better off with a little more bombast. If only they had the skill to put it together for more than a flash.