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A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble

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Album Review

A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble is the album on which Jeremy Barnes finally and emphatically distances himself from the remnants of the Elephant 6 scene he had been part of as drummer for Neutral Milk Hotel: this brief, entirely instrumental album has nothing to do with indie rock in any way, shape, or form. Barnes and his fellow multi-instrumentalist Heather Trost moved to Budapest, Hungary, in 2006 to more fully immerse themselves in their beloved Eastern European folk music; recorded in Hungary with local musicians the Hun Hangár Ensemble (reedman Béla Ágoston, bassist and accordionist Zsolt Kürtosi, trumpeter and violinist Ferenc Kovács, and cimbalom player Baláza Unger), this eight-track album combines traditional Balkan tunes (given generic descriptive titles like "Serbian Cocek," "Romanian Hora and Bulgar," and "Oriental Hora") with a handful of Barnes/Trost originals like the sweeping, majestic "Zozobra." Unlike Beirut's Gulag Orkestar (to which Barnes and Trost contributed enormously), this is not indie pop music taking the trappings of Eastern European folk music, but the thing itself, presented in a fashion that makes it potentially accessible to an audience that might otherwise not find room in its listening day for a track like "Vajdaszentivány," a dazzling medley of Hungarian folk tunes played on the hammered dulcimer-like cimbalom. Those expecting the training wheels that Gulag Orkestar (or even A Hawk and a Hacksaw's three earlier, somewhat more pop-oriented, albums) provided may find A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble a challenging listen at first, but the sheer joy of these performances should make them accessible to all but the most musically isolationist and/or accordion-phobic. The first pressing of the CD includes a bonus DVD featuring the film An Introduction to A Hawk and a Hacksaw, which combines material from the recording sessions for this album with older live material shot in Barnes' hometown of Albuquerque, NM.

Biography

Formed: Albuquerque, NM

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Originally started by former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, A Hawk and a Hacksaw released its self-titled debut, on which Barnes played all the instruments and which explored 20th century American music, in 2004 on Leaf Records. The next year, after enlisting help from tuba player Mark Weaver, trumpeter Dan Clucas, and violinist Heather Trost, Barnes and the band issued Darkness at Noon, which was recorded in the U.K. and in Barnes' native Albuquerque, New Mexico, and delved into both...
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