Jeremy Barnes definitely deserves an honor seat in the world of indie quirk-rock, as evidenced by the self-titled debut of his one-man superband Hawk and a Hacksaw. In this album, Barnes wrestles a bunch of instruments into making playful, wildly creative music, full of cartoonish whimsy.
Barnes usually starts off with a rooster crowing, followed by an offbeat piano melody that builds up slowly, getting more and more complicated before the drums kick in. And then those rattling noises. The first song "Maremaillette" ends up being swamped by a bright array of instruments, until the piano is only a part of the background.
The following songs tend to be catchy piano-based songs, cute and kooky and bright, such as the chaotically catchy "Hack and a Handsaw," which decides halfway through that it wants to be an accordian song. At the middle of the album, becomes a bit folkier and slower, with "Quand le Son Devient Aigu, Jeter la Girafe a la Mer" sounding a bit like a smoky saloon song. And it ends on a more experimental number, with the cut-short finale "With Our Thoughts We Make the World."
When it's spawned from the likes of Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel, a band has a lot to live up to. And Hawk and a Hacksaw actually seems to be doing just that -- Barnes doesn't strain to sound cool, overly complex or avant-garde. Instead, the album feels whimsical and relaxed, while blurring the borders between French folk, piano-rock and the experimental weirdness of Elephant 6's other bands.
There are a few flaws -- Barnes plays the piano too fast at times, which made me think of the Keystone Cops bumbling around the place. But the composition is pure brilliance.. Barnes will suddenly rip a melody down and reassemble it with different instruments, all in the same song. The next-to-last song is perhaps the most brilliant, an orchestral sweep of bright, flawed beauty.
Even if it is sometimes too fast, the piano melodies are speedy and always building up so... something. And even better: Barnes accents his piano and percussion with a glorious collage of offbeat instruments: poultry like geese and ducks, spoons, accordians, kazoos, horns, xylophone, distortions, electronic burps and who knows what else.
Barnes creates a few dozen new genres with his tap-your-foot-till-it-hurts psychedelic folk-pop. No matter how many things he crams into "Hawk and a Hacksaw," it never sounds random -- just roughly but lovingly assembled.