Amelia’s Magazine | A Hawk And A Hacksaw

Five albums in, medications malady and with only mild commercial success to date, it would be a reasonable assessment to describe Rufus Wainwright’s dramatic, theatrical pop as something of an acquired taste. For many, he over eggs the pudding , and then some. But whilst bold ambition may be a deterrent to some, his loyal fans will rejoice at this offering. This is classic Rufus, and whilst it wont be winning him many new fans, this simply doesn’t matter. This is a record to admire, it may even be his most satisfying work to date.

As expected, Wainwright offers up his usual mix of epic and restrained throughout the 13 songs, and there are a number of gems. Striking orchestration and characteristically high in the mix Rufus vocals lead us into opener Do I Dissapoint You. It is a brilliant opening song to set the tone for what is to follow. The diversity of instruments employed here alone is staggering, and like many songs throughout the album the arrangement is gloriously ambitious. The recurring operatic theme, present throughout all his previous work has been thankfully maintained.

First Single Going To A Town (which was B listed by Radio 2) follows. Its mournful tones echoing latter day Beatles balladry (think Fool On The Hill) and it features the albums most engaging lyrics. Amidst numerous misforgivings with his homeland, Wainwright again finds himself lost in the confusion of love and religion (another recurring theme here), “Tell me, do you really think you go to hell for having loved?” he pleads. For all the record’s grandiose, it is these moments of human insecurity that really strike a chord. It is also one of a number of outstanding vocals on the record.

The pace doesn’t let up throughout the opening half – Nobody’s Off The Hook, Between My Legs and Tiergarten sit easily amongst the artists best work. But, it cannot quite be maintained throughout the second half – a better focus on sequencing next time perhaps. But this is a minor gripe. With each listen, hidden depths are revealed, suggesting that this is a record that will endure also. It is a joy.

Troubles! That’s exactly what the Concretes got into during the last year. One of the three founding members and nonetheless the lead vocalist of the band decided to quit to start her solo project Taken by Trees. If that was not enough the destiny decided to punish them furthermore and as a result they had all their equipment stolen during the U.S. tour. Quite a difficult time for a band, sildenafil isn’t it? However, The Concretes decided to look ahead and continue their career as a seven piece band, giving Maria Erikkson the difficult task to substitute the charismatic and easily recognisable voice of Victoria Bergsman.

This story has definitely something in common with that of another band that I always considered in some way similar to the Swedish one; the departure of one of the founding member of the Concretes is very similar to the loss of Mary Hansen for Stereolab. Such a change is always reflected in the future work of a group, especially if it is not a one man band but a sort of democratic collective that works together in order to create the soft and tender melodies that Concretes‘ fans are used to. Anyway the Swedish guys made it and here they are with a new release on Licking Fingers. The main problem of this 12 track cd is certainly the already discussed new lead vocalist, however, if we consider the work in its context, what we have is a quite enjoyable, typically northern European pop record. Simple and direct lyrics are mixed with a light pop approach to composition. It is definitely easy- listening music that in some of its shapes can be compared with Peter Bjorn and John, another very fashionable Swedish project.

Probably my favourite track has to be considered the positive Firewatch with its guitar arpeggio that together with constant background drums and lyrics like “If you promise to be here I’ll do the same” certainly gives no real surprise to the listener but goes straight to the point: just plain and sophisticated pop.

The album’s start is slow and not very catchy, however the tracklist is well organized and creates a sort of work in progress that leads to songs like the more rocking Oh Boy or Keep Yours, an almost danceable track where Maria Erikkson’s ‘out of tune’ vocals seem really to be in the right place. With If We’re Lucky We Don’t Get There On Time we are introduced into a dreamy atmosphere; in this case the lead vocalist is supported by a second male voice and there are soft beats reminiscent of the Velvet Underground.

It is as if The Concretes were trying to give us a pause, a break from the pretty plain music stream of the album. Then, Are you Prepared takes you directly to some eighties light-hearted pop with the singer constantly repeating “Are you prepared to wake up with me?”. Oh No, on the other hand, is probably the little treasure of this album: the band really seem to work collectively again building an epic wall of sound.
The overall result is not the best achievement by the Swedish band, but still it manages to be delicate and not boring. It’s simple and there is nothing unexpected. All the songs start as you want them and finish exactly when you would say it’s the proper time to stop. Nonetheless they are enriched with a very quality instrumental texture that makes you listen to the album again and again.

I had a bad feeling about tonight. When a band is booked to play a large venue outside their main fan base, store it usually ends in disaster. The idiosyncrasies of Deerhoof’s sound, medicine no wave rock ‘n’ roll with a harrowing simplicity both lyrically and aurally, just isn’t suited to the cavernous blood red walls of a venue like Camden’s Koko.

Their oddball setup: guitarist John Dietrich lurking at the back, drummer Greg Saunier and his tiny kit perched front right, and the miniscule Satomi Matsuzaki front left seemed forced and overly ‘kooky’. While Dietrich pored over his guitar, Saunier pounded the snare with such enthusiasm it left the beautiful voice of Matsuzaki drowned in a sea of ‘prap prap prap prap’.

The seven minute opener, a mix of tracks from albums Apple O’ and Reveille was surprisingly bold for the trio, whose tendencies to shy away publicly, add to their intrigue musically. But it somehow didn’t fit the occasion. An overwhelming need to fill the space with as much noise as possible, blending songs seamlessly into a maelstrom of gaudy, cartoonish bestiary felt beyond them.

But the gig did pay much needed homage to the sheer mass of material the band have accumulated in their ten-year existence. Featuring some of the beautifully experimental tracks from Holdy Paws and combining it with their later, more playful work. But that was precisely their downfall. Music from Friend Opportunity, their latest release, was few and far between.

For a tour originally designed to promote the album, it seemed more like a ‘Best Of’. Call it a lack of confidence, or the unfamiliarity of playing abroad, but they seemed frightened at the prospect of playing new material live.

For a band that carves beauty out of a prog-rock style setup, they should be applauded above their current left field status. Listen to any number of tracks from their catalogue and you’ll find Dietrich, Saunier and Matsuzaki constantly testing the limits of their sound. Unfortunately, the Koko gig was a test too far.

Living in London isn’t all that bad. Back in my hometown a concert by A Hawk and a Hacksaw would probably never have happened and in case it did take place, adiposity there would just be a bunch of intellectuals judging the band from behind their heavy glasses. On the contrary, the amount of people living in this metropolis makes you expect this event to be sold out even in a fairly big venue. So, no surprise a queue of fans looking for a ticket awaited me at the Uxbridge Road entrance.

Why should you consider this band something special? First of all try to concentrate on the name: how would you ever imagine to choose such a weird name for your band? Then, the music: getting interested in eastern European gipsy folk is not that common especially for a band that originated in the U.S. and whose founder is the ex drummer of the indie project Neutral Milk Hotel.

Despite of all this, Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost succeeded in recreating the magical atmospheres of the Balkan world through the release of various albums capable of mixing Klezmer, Estern European Folk, Gipsy songs and many more influences with contemporary and avant-garde music.

The London gig, part of the Contemporary Music Network Tour, takes place at the lovely Bush Hall and in this case they’re supported by a special guest band of incredibly talented musicians coming from Budapest: The Hun Hangár Ensemble. They enter the stage after being introduced by the two members of the Hawk and a Hacksaw playing the accordion and the violin. They walk through the public wearing masks and giving people that sense of participation that is probably the most important feature of the folk tradition where music is almost considered as a right.

The number of instruments on stage is impressive: Hungarian bagpipes, clarinet, alto saxophone, taragoto, viola, upright bass, accordion, trumpet, violin and cimbalom. The presence of the ensemble creates a distance from the unexpected cuts and pastes you’ve got used to while listening to a Hawk and a Hacksaw album. The show is closer to the traditional harmonies of Hungarian folk and there is little space left for vocals while the attention focuses on instant composition and the band playing as a whole to create the beauty and strength of music. It’s a stream of sound that pretends to be danced, however there is no happiness in the air and melancholy together with a shadow of spectral desperation pervade the work of these musicians.

It’s always nice seeing people playing and enjoying themselves, and on Thursday that definitely happened: mixing old repertoire of A Hawk And A Hacksaw with the re-elaboration of songs coming directly from the folk tradition, the concert seemed unstoppable. The band played for more than 2 hours leaving me absolutely breathless.

For anyone that missed this concert, Leaf Label just released the beautiful A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangár Ensemble EP; something I felt was just necessary to be bought.

Categories ,A Hawk and A Hacksaw, ,Band, ,Bush Hall, ,Gig, ,Heather Trost, ,Jeremy Barnes

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