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A Hawk and a Hacksaw

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Album Review

As if in repulsion of the 21st century and its failed promises, more artists and listeners are turning to the first half of another century — the 20th — for musical inspiration. But while Americana has typically manifested itself in the form of alt-country pining per Wilco or direct librarianism (see the Soggy Bottom Boys), few have innovated to the same degree as Jeremy Barnes of Neutral Milk Hotel has on this release. Opening with "Maremailette," the immediate connection is made to the repetitive looping of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. However, the song soon begins to swell with accordion and tin pan drums, which are a much more accurate signpost to what follows. The title track plays like a rampant silent film score, while "A Hard Row to Hoe" is down-right cartoonish, with it's squeezebox hijinks. But things don't remain so slap-happy as "Black Firs" slows the tempo and adds a healthy dose of modernly retro tape effects. And that's where things remain for the latter half of the album, deteriorating into more complex and disjointed arrangements until "To Pine in Time," which works off a lacing of hornet buzzes and raw analog melodies. Pleasantly, Barnes ends with "With Our Thoughts We Make the World," a swaying number that returns to the cascading cymbals and accordion and even features something of a lead vocal part. Fascinatingly old-timey yet smartly modern, Barnes has produced a record unlike anything you're likely to hear again, in any century.

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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