Ryan Hover and Kay Bertholf, the duo behind the fabulously named Candy Claws, met in the unlikeliest of places: an Evangelical superchurch in Colorado. Along with some other like-minded friends, they created an oasis away from all the preaching and proselytizing in a stairwell where they traded ideas and figured out what it was they truly believed. As they grew older, both Hover and Bertholf moved away from faith in the unseen toward the tangibility of science and the natural world, an influence that saturated their first album In the Dream of Sea Life and crops up again on their latest effort.
Hidden Lands has been described as a companion piece to Richard M. Ketchum's The Secret Life of the Forest, an illustrated plant-life book that examines the inner workings of trees. Within Ketchum's scientific descriptions of the plant kingdom's processes, the band members noticed that his words carried a certain beauty. Hover and Bertholf began to feed bits and pieces of Ketchum's writing into an online translator, converting his words back and forth from Japanese to English. The results of the experiment were strangely poetic (i.e. "Trees, like all other forms of life, trace their origins back to the sea" became "Tree of life in the sea") and form the entirety of Hidden Lands' lyrics.
And that's not the only unusual approach Candy Claws adopted with the making of this album. Feeling like muscle memory on the guitar was leading to their fingers returning to the same, comfortable chords again and again, Hover and Bertholf decided to build Hidden Lands around the keyboard, an instrument neither of them actually knew how to play. Instead of a handicap, they saw this as an opportunity to free up their creativity and embrace the thrill of discovery; a risky move that paid off in spades.
Hidden Lands is the soundtrack to the dreams that would follow a raunchy one night stand between Animal Collective's Feels and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, a coupling of the unusual vocal delivery of the former album and the joyous melodies of the latter. Boy-girl vocals, wrapped delicately in synths, melt into hazy, psychedelic atmospherics and paint lush soundscapes: a whale song at the bottom of an alien sea or pellets of hail clacking against towering redwoods before diving to the forest floor.
Immersive through and through, Hidden Lands swallows the listener whole. It's difficult to mark where one song ends and the next begins because each song is adorned with samples from every other song on the album, making for a completely cohesive and fluid experience. This technique forces the listener to take the album, not as an assortment of amputated hit singles, but as the originally intended whole.
The sound Candy Claws has crafted here is so intricate and sweeping that eight musicians are needed to tour the material. To get the most out of it, put on some headphones that can keep the city noises at bay. Then, slip into the dreamy wonderland in search of those hidden lands that only appear to those who know where to look.
Candy Claws plays the Rickshaw Stop on November 11, 2010. For tickets and information, visit rickshawstop.com. And check out this amazing Candy Claws cover of Ace of Base's "Don't Turn Around" just because.