Hands is a very personal album from Berlin based Irish folk singer Wallis Bird. Its alternative title is ‘Nine and a Half Songs For Nine and a Half Fingers’ – a reference to a childhood accident which saw all of the fingers of her dominant left hand cut off by a lawnmower. Although four of the digits were successfully reattached her little finger remains a stump.
Wallis Bird is known as a songwriter with a deft and emotional touch, her songs commonly built around telling often unpleasant truths. But while her 2019 album Women was overtly political, Hands has a very different subject: her own life. Bird uses the songs to reflect on some uncomfortable memories and realisations, covering a range of subjects ranging from alcohol abuse to self-improvement. Yet the sound is almost always upbeat, with a retro pop feel that offers a very different take on the painful lyrical content.
Musically, Hands never quite seems to settle. There is a wide variety in its musical stylings, with synths anchoring some tracks whereas others are built around Bird’s unconventional guitar style, playing a right-handed guitar upside-down. Yet the starkness and the sheer intimacy of the lyrics draw the listener in, making it compelling, if in places uncomfortable, listening.
What’s Wrong With Changing sees Bird marking many milestones from her life, from personal moves to the landmark legalisation of gay marriage in Ireland. Musically the track is upbeat and strident, punctuating its story nicely, with the vocals spoken initially before bursting into life. Aquarius talks to identity and making choices, personal or political, that result in taking control. It has a fast synth beat and touches of pedal steel that really shouldn’t work together but somehow the very different sounds come together.
I Lose Myself Completely confronts alcohol abuse head on, Bird’s realisation of her problem leading to a desire for change. Pretty Lies also focuses on change, this time from recent lockdown to freedom and the possibilities that it could bring. This closing track begins with gentle acoustic guitar over bird song before the rhythm builds steadily, ending the album on an optimistic note.
Overall, Hands has a somewhat disconcerting feel, with its deeply personal lyrics that are challenging yet reflect hope for the future. The vocals are delivered in a manner that portrays the emotions of the lyrics, even where this can be at odds with the upbeat musical backing. But somehow it works well and the result is a powerful suite of honest self reflections.
Release date: 27 May 2022
Label: Mount Silver Records/ Virgin Records