n Portland, alt-weeklies were singing the Shaky Hands' praises as soon as they'd released their modest debut, and on first listen you wonder if these guys aren't just another batch of local champions pushed forth by the city council as a possible encore following the success of, I don't know, the Decemberists. But the Shaky Hands owe far less to the lushness of their citymates than to the brittle, ambling pop of a less concisely named agitated-hand band, one whose runaway success isn't deserved by this album but might well be by this band.
The best thing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah did was put harmonica on that one song, and the Shaky Hands know it: summer-haze mouth organ flutters beneath "Summer's Life," the album's gentlest song no matter how teasingly it threatens to rupture into an applause sign. "We Will Rise," which used to be called "Clapping Song" until the band presumably realized it was worth more, plants itself atop a sighing bass line and hops off midway to let it show off for a second; it's a highlight, and so is "Why and How Come," whose pestering title is drawled over thin guitar and what's left of the verses' percussion.
These songs, along with giddy opener "Whales Sing," play to the band's primary strength: a knack for stop-start dynamics that animates the kind of indie guitar rock that might otherwise lie inert, playing at breeziness. It's not a gift they always employ—there's little to "Host Yr Day" but flatly strummed guitar and broken promises—nor is it one that could or should be applied to an entire album. Unfortunately there's often little to serve in its stead—"Another World Pt. 2" and "I'm Alive" make appealing use of shambling acoustic guitars as percussion sections, but neither survives its three minutes, though the lack of a soundtrack slot for the twinkling "Sunburns" can be added to the growing list of reasons to miss “The Adventures of Pete & Pete.”
It's not the only point of contact between The Shaky Hands and the old Nickelodeon show. "Sunburns" in particular benefits from precisely the self-possession that kept “Pete & Pete” charming even at its most absurd—there's an affable confidence to its bowlegged bass that argues for the indulgence of its lovelorn requests: "I'd like to stay here / In my mind, out in nowhere / Sleeping by the river"—and The Shaky Hands is peppered liberally with the kinds of sugar-cane pop songs, reedy and unrefined, to which Big and Little Pete drifted through their threatless '90s haze. At its best this stuff has always toyed dangerously with the line twixt grace and somnolence, and when the Shaky Hands are on the right side it's thanks to their dynamic sense and their bassist, without whose assertive lope these songs would atomize in the wind. This is not an album full of great songs, but it's one whose great songs are obvious and their components easily identifiable, and by a band it's not at all difficult to imagine leaving town.