Review: The Hands Free – The Hands Free (New Amsterdam, May 25)

Though New York acoustic quartet The Hands Free is described as “new” on their Bandcamp page, the music on their self-titled debut album sounds like it was made by people who have been playing together for decades. Though the musicianship is solid and stellar, The Hands Free is the band trying to find their footing, exploring various styles and structures throughout. By no means is the record a hodgepodge, nor does it sound thrown together or incoherent; but there are certainly some songs here that work better than others. The band seems to be at their best when they are freely improvising without any sort of (audibly) premeditated melodies or rhythms. “Yes or No,” the track that opens the album, is a lively but angular piece, garnering its charm and success from the musicians playfully bouncing off each other. Eleonore Oppenheim’s bass is a highlight here, always clacking and thumping underneath, and stuns when it comes to the forefront. “Sade,” in contrast, is an accordion-led number that seems much more orchestrated, and as a result not quite as enjoyable. The parts are complex, sure, but the band still sounds restricted, almost battling their own composition. I will admit, though, that the mostly rhythmic swells and crescendos of “It’s She” are without a doubt some of the album’s best moments, and it’s probably one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. Hopefully the band focuses a bit more on what they do best on their next release; but The Hands Free is a fantastic start.