Apparently being part of Beirut has had quite an influence on A Hawk and a Hacksaw. In third album "The Way the Wind Blows," this quirky Balkan-electro-psychfolk band gets even more into their sound... and by that, I mean less electro and psychfolk. Not typical Elephant 6 fare, but good.
It opens with "In the River," a swooning ballad crammed with accordion and horns... which changes tempo into an entirely different kind of song. It's followed by the title track, a bittersweet fiddle tune that wanders through the slow accordion tune. It sounds like a gypsy fiddler who got left behind, and is lamenting about it via music.
They continue that sound through the next song, only to burst into a raucous little dance number in the bouncy "Fernando's Giampari," and the urgent swirling "God Bless the Ottoman Empire," with its chorus of voices. There are tuba waltzes, yearning fiddle ballads, bouncy Balkan party tunes, and accordion foot-tappers.
Seriously, A Hawk and a Hacksaw has always been a bit of an oddball "Elephant 6er," even now that the collective has collapsed. Rather than fuzzy psychedelica or sparkling oddball tunes, this band veers more towards Eastern-European traditional sounds, with some keyboard mixed in.
And "The Way the Wind Blows" is probably the heaviest on traditional sounds, with keyboard and psychedelica minimized in favor of... accordion, male choruses, and swirling instrumentals. It's heady, earthy music, although it never stops being just a wee bit melancholy, even in the happier numbers.
Instrumentation is pretty straightforward -- lots of accordion and fiddle, by Neutral Milk Hotel percussionsist Jeremy Barnes (who is, I think, a little mad) and Heather Trost. While there isn't much that's "psychedelic" about this music, it does seem to swirl and shimmer. And instead of typical vocals, the music is crammed with unintelligible chants, cheers and other such noises.
A Hawk and a Hacksaw continues to be the Balkan-psychfolk oddball, but it's fun to listen to. And "The Way the Wind Blows" is definitely worth hearing for anyone entranced by Beirut.
Anyone who has done the right thing and bought the Beirut album, Gulag Orkestar, should really make the effort and purchase this work as well. Whilst it is not nearly as poppy as the former, it is a really listenable piece of work encapsulating an area of the world that few of us have entered....Moldovan folk.
It does not have the immediacy of Beirut, but equally over time the listener is rewardede by a very original, wonderful piece of work that will transport you from your chair/train/car into the hills and traditional landscape of Moldova, with it's traditional people, living simple lives, gaining pleasure through the story telling abilities of their music, that probably has evolved far too slowly to require X factor to tell you who has the best voice, or silliest haircuts.
No, A Hawk and a Hacksaw have hatched a piece of work that will last aeons longer than anything from this current generation of pretenders....take the voyage and enjoy every note.