Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beirut Review On Stylus

The Flying Club Cup
Ba Da Bing
Online reveiw

Some people may mourn the passing of Zach Condon's cottage-industry approach and makeshift binary orkestra, the occasionally cacophonous delivery, and earnestly clamoring and lo-fi arrangements that typified Gulag Orkestra—a result of the young musician's inventiveness in the face of necessity. They added up to at least half the charm of Beirut's terrific and much-acclaimed debut album from last year.

Of course those people are also missing something if they think that Condon's second album, or, more appositely, Beirut's first as a fully-fledged band, is somehow less charming, less idiosyncratic, less unique, and less wonderful simply because our magical conductor now has a full and very real band at his disposal rather than a cast of imagined musicians in his head.

Following on the heels of the Lon Gisland EP and the extensive, worldwide-touring that followed Gulag, The Flying Club Cup makes use of the friends, networks, and synergies put together to make his previously isolated adventures tangible, and in doing so improves it. It's a simple formula—the songs are better, the melodies more memorable, the vocals stronger, the sound richer, the arrangements more rewarding.

To give some context, which I view pretty important to this whole "reviewing records" thing, I reviewed this album in the midst of a house-move, my music collection packed all away bar a handful of Beta Band, King Biscuit and Beirut CDs, my desktop computer boxed and debunked, myself perched on a beanbag with a laptop and a glass or eight of red wine. Listening to and writing about The Flying Club Cup in this context made an awful lot of sense; the waiting, the tidied disarray, the low light, the frantic sense that something, somewhere, must have been forgotten, the empty shelves, the rioja that slips across one's tongue and down one's throat just slightly too easily. The Flying Club Cup is a luxuriant, beautiful album, but also slightly distracted, otherwise occupied, busy.

Something else that makes a lot of sense is hearing Owen Pallet's high, tremulous voice ring out with a sense of frosted drama above the accordions and beyond-the-Iron-Curtain martial drums of "Cliquot"; doubly so when you realise that it's his wonderful, swirling and emotive string arrangements that run through half the record, helping to take the virtual kingdom of Gulag and turn it into a real place populated by accordions horns, pianos and voices—many, many voices.

The foremost of those voices being Zach Condon's own, finally revealed in its full splendor as both delicate and powerful, capable of traversing melodic lines and riding tides of instruments and musical traditions that should be well beyond the common or garden college dropout from Albuquerque.

Inspired by a picture of hot air balloons by the Eiffel Tower that Condon kept pinned up in the studio (and everywhere else he recorded), The Flying Club Cup sees Condon's picaresque folk wandering westwards from the Balkan sources of his debut album to take in sights, sounds, and scents more Gallic; Jacques Brel, conversational French, deep, taciturn burgundy clarets and light, dancing Beaujolais. The briefly ringing ukulele (or is it a mandolin?) charms and chides of "The Penalty," the camp and elegiac drama of "Forks & Knives (La Fête)," the gently-breaking percussive waves and weirs of "Nantes," the jazzy piano fills and audacious strings of "The Mausoleum," the rolling farewells of "St. Apollonia"; Beirut here is taken of too much wine, swoonsome, romantic, decadent, observed, and wonderfuly so. The debut album was good, but this is better. Much, much better; the kind of record I will happily and willingly return to long after this review is dead and buried. Please, investigate, sup deeply, imbibe. The Flying Club Cup is a marvel.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Breakbeat Techno Disco Acid Loving Vibert!

Luke Vibert's output can only be summed up as prolifically monstrous. Since the early 90ies Vibert has released fifteen full lengths, sixteen EPs and somewhere around sixteen singles. Vibert's latest CD and triple-freakin-vinyl Chicago, Detroit, Redruth shows no sign that the man is ready to call it quits. Below are a few recent reviews.

The Onion - September 4th, 2007
Luke Vibert
Chicago, Detroit, Redruth
Reviewed by Michaelangelo Matos
Online review

As Plug, Luke Vibert turned drum-and-bass breakbeats in on themselves. As Wagon Christ, he helped crystallize trip-hop's dread-filled MO. Under his own name, he's flittered about with a number of styles, with bright-eyed, songwriterly panache. On Chicago, Detroit, Redruth, Vibert corrals his many approaches into a cohesive album which plays like a career-spanning overview that happens to consist entirely of new material. All of it fits, and plenty of it is self-explanatory: Titles like "Breakbeat Metal Music," "Comfycozy," and "Rapperdacid" pretty well speak for themselves. But Vibert always adds an unexpected twist, frequently a funny one, as on the fuzzy-cosmos "God," whose hook is a mock-frightened, sampled woman shrieking, "Oh my God!"

A.V. Club Rating: B+ - September 9th 2007
Luke Vibert, "Chicago, Detroit, Redruth"
Written by Gary Suarez
Online review

It may have taken a few years longer than hoped, but that other Cornish madman has at last perfected the formula he has relentlessly toiled over with this batch of infectiously quirky acid-blasted instant classics. The chronic unevenness that hindered many of his releases this century is noticeably absent from this gooey mix of "grown folks" electronica.

2007 is shaping up to be quite productive for Vibert. Chicago, Detroit, Redruth, his second long player for Planet Mu, was preceded by The Ace Of Clubs' Benefist album and Rubber Chunks EP on Firstcask. Furthermore, he unleashed a whole slew of digital reissues exclusively via Warp Records' Bleep.Com download service, including several out-of-print Wagon Christ releases and the coveted Plug album Drum 'n' Bass For Papa. As for the remaining months, Lo Recordings is just about to drop his anticipated full length Moog Acid collaboration with the legendary Jean Jacques Perrey, and, according to the Rephlex website, a follow-up to 1993's Vibert/Simmonds album appears due out this year. Still, without having heard these latter two releases, Chicago, Detroit, Redruth is positioned to be his finest this decade.

Though remarkably cohesive as a whole, the album engages in a fair bit of genre hopping throughout, from the dangling boom-bap and fidgety squiggles of "Clikilik" to the astonishingly straightforward Plus8-referencing techno of "Argument Fly." Spectacular opener "ComfyCozy" brilliantly slaps a drum n' bass rhythm against a piano-driven jazz performance gilded with electronic touches, recalling for this fan the very first time he heard the aforementioned Plug. As expected, Vibert doles out invigorating acid like "Brain Rave" and the joyously retrospective title track. However, there are some real surprises here, such as "Swet," an eight-minute freaky groove that tactfully samples the instantly recognizable doorbell sequence from The Jetsons. Here, an unanticipated maturity surfaces from a producer oft noted for having his tongue permanently stationed in his cheek.

Of course, the sacred Roland TB-303 box returns as a pivotal weapon in the Vibertian arsenal, delivering those signature squelchy sequences that simply cannot be beat. However, the artist has finally mastered just how to best use that invaluable box in the context of his irreverent yet enticing productions, far more so than on less satisfying affairs like YosepH and Lover’s Acid. But any music geek worth his salt knows that acid was—and is—more than a box. The essence of those good old days dominates on "Breakbeat Metal Music," which only sparingly utilizes the 303, and the heavenly "Radio Savalas."

With nary a drippy track in the bunch, Chicago, Detroit, Redruth redeems the unsettlingly hit-or-miss nature of his 21st century work, be it Kerrier District's daft disco, Wagon Christ's kitsch-funk, or any number of styles wielded by his elusive collection of monikers. Though last year's high-energy-meets-deep-bass Amen Andrews vs Spac Hand Luke deviated delightfully from that trend, this new set for Planet Mu represents a creative triumph from a producer who now appears unstoppable.

Port O'Brien 7.5 Review Posted On Pitchfork Today.

Port O'Brien
The Wind and the Swell
[American Dust; 2007]
Rating: 7.5
Online review

From the Decemberists' belly-of-the-whale epics to Modest Mouse's existential oceans, from Alela Diane's yo-ho-ho choruses to Oh No! Oh My!'s pirate anthem, nautical themes have become so prevalent in current indie mythology that it's enough to make you seasick. But Port O'Brien has earned the right to the salt-crusted imagery adorning its first full-length, The Wind and the Swell, as well as to the numerous mentions of seas and oceans and fishing boats and puffins in these jagged, intelligent indie-folk songs. Port O'Brien mainstay Van Pierszalowski, a California native and son of a commercial fisherman, spends his summers aboard an Alaskan salmon schooner, either fighting the seas or bored in port if the weather's bad. He named the band after an Alaskan port, uses photos of his father's crew as album art, and keeps a detailed ship's blog on the group's web site.

But The Wind and the Swell, which collects the group's first two out-of-print releases on one disc, sounds like a much better journal of days at sea. Like most tracks, opener "I Woke Up Today" could be a sea-legs lament: "Yes I understand I cannot live on this land," Pierszalowski sings, "but does that truly mean I have seen all that can be seen?" The song is all windworn surfaces: the guitars sound rough and creaky, the voices cracked but resolute. These same lyrics repeat on the sparse closer "Simple Way", which slows the tempo and pares down the music: instead of a stormy passage, the song fades gradually, like land disappearing on the horizon.

Port O'Brien's first LP, When the Rain Comes, from 2005, was a set of mostly acoustic songs featuring Pierszalowski on acoustic guitar, reflecting the outfit's more-or-less solo origins. The recording is blunt and primitive, perfect for Pierszalowski's then-unrefined songwriting. "Five and Dime", his wordiest composition, reckons with his own wanderlust: "It kills me to think that straight lines have taken over the life I've led," he sings as the song veers suddenly into a relentless road-trip strum. The band's 2006 EP Nowhere to Run keeps the rough aesthetic and unflinching self-examination in place, but elaborates on them in intriguing musical ways: adding new sounds and more instruments, honing the lyrics to be more teasingly indirect, and benefiting greatly from the presence of Cambria Goodwin, whose sharp vocals and percussive banjo color "I Woke Up Today" and her own "Tree Bones".

On The Wind and the Swell, instead of presenting each release in its original tracklist order, as if they're two sides of the same album, Pierszalowski resequences the songs to highlight the contrasts between the two sets. This tack, despite its minor limitations (gone are the scraps of stray song interspersed between the "real" tracks from Nowhere to Run), distracts from the weaknesses of early tracks and emphasizes the seaworthiness of later songs like "Tree Bones" and "A Bird Flies By". In the process, The Wind and the Swell builds and fades, suggesting a landlocked anomie that only the ocean can assuage: "And I just wanna be floating on the sea," Pierszalowski sings on "Anchor", "with my anchor tied to land." The product of days and days at sea, The Wind and the Swell retains the songs' original documentary impact, even as it shows that Pierszalowski's music is less about seafaring summers than simple remoteness, both geographical and emotional.

-Stephen M. Deusner, September 17, 2007

Check out these upcoming Port O'Brien live dates:

09/23 Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theatre (w/Bright Eyes)
09/24 Chico, CA @ Senator Theatre (w/Bright Eyes)
09/26 Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy
10/10 San Diego, CA @ Casbah (w/Rogue Wave)
10/11 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey (w/Rogue Wave)
10/12 San Francisco, CA @ Bimbos 365 (w/Rogue Wave)
10/15 Portland, OR @ Wonderland Ballroom (w/Rogue Wave)
10/16 Seattle, WA @ Nuemos (w/Rogue Wave)
10/19 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre (w/Rogue Wave)
10/20 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck (w/Rogue Wave)
10/21 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room (w/Rogue Wave)
10/23 Minneapolis, MN @ 400 Bar (w/Rogue Wave)
10/24 Chicago, IL @ Double Door (w/Rogue Wave)
10/26 Toronto, ON @ Mod Club (w/Rogue Wave)
10/27 Montreal, QC @ Cabaret Music Club (w/Rogue Wave)
10/29 Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse Music Hall (w/Rogue Wave)
10/30 Boston, MA @ The Paradise (w/Rogue Wave)

Sweet footage of 'My Eyes Won't Shut'

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Blues Control Gets Foxy.

Brooklyn's dynamic noise-rock duo Blues Control scored a killer review on Foxy Digitalis yesterday. For those in the greater NY metropolitan area, check out some live blues with Rahdunes (Emperor Jones) tonight and tomorrow.

09/13 Annandale-on-Hudson, NY @ Bard College (w/Rahdunes)
09/14 New York, NY @ Cake Shop (w/ Rahdunes)
09/19 Brooklyn, NY @ GlassLands

Blues Control
Holy Mountain
Online review

In a homemade submarine below the surface of a tropical sea Blues Control lurk. They have managed an escape from the expectations associated with any prescribed sound or scene. Many bands over the years have been eager to take their “rock” to outer space, but as you can see Russ and Lea have opted for something different, instead of putting the tin can into the cosmos, they lowered it into the sea. I know what you are thinking “The cover of this album contradicts everything you are saying,” but perhaps none of us have just never gone deep enough in the sea.

Deadened hypnotic loops of percussion push their fuzzy low-end frequencies through beaten old speakers, the only sonar the good ship Blues Control needs. The prerecorded magnetic tape that sets the course are soaking wet and the beats sound as if they are being pounded out on a damp cardboard box drum set. Reminiscent of the steady rhythm that would be found holding down an epic side-long psychedelic rock compositions, these loops serve as a ready made foundation upon which Blues Control over lay virtuosic spaced-out piano and infectious damaged guitar leads. Along the way synths, flutes, harmonicas, and manipulated vocals all make appearances in walk-on roles. All structures created for and within these compositions are calculated devices for reaching a more pure level of expression and shared freedom. Freedom is a quality so quickly (and perhaps wrongly) associated with improvised music. While Blues Control are by no means an improv group, their songs are built loosely enough for subtle continual reinvention to take place. It is also through these slight and subtle “imperfections” and “inventions” that the listener is able to develop a closer relationship to the music and it’s makers.

These songs cannot adequately be described in pre-existing genre definitions. There is a hazy feeling of familiarity one gets when listening to the tracks contained here within but any immediate point of reference will not have a name. We could throw terms around until we are blue in the face, but I promise you the moment we settle on a definition, no matter how concrete or vague, Blues Control will make a move to contradict all the conclusions we just arrived at. You see, Blues Control are not afraid of stylistic contradictions that may arise within their process, in fact they embrace them, understanding that the richest territory to mine is that which is not defined, and what better way to get the listener to walk the path with them then by giving the listener something vaguely familiar to hold onto.

As I listen again and again I can’t help but think of, what I imagine to be an, unintentional bond this album shares with German Oak and their self-titled album released 35 years earlier. Though Blues Controls, spaced-out tin can party vibe couldn’t be further from the dark brooding of German Oak, the recordings present on both albums share a similar sense of production and through that production succeed at creating a very specific space in which the music exists. There is an honesty and sincerity that can be heard through the music, a quality that can not be assumed, that truly makes this album a gem to be treasured. Blues Control are not afraid to commune with the ghosts of rock past but be aware their reference to the groups of the past goes hand in hand with a wary critical edge and an eye to the future. 9/10 -- Ryan Brown (12 September, 2007)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ambitious Video Concept For New Beirut Album.

Over the summer Beirut filmed individual videos for very song off their upcoming flying Club Cup album (streets Oct. 9th). The first two videos have just been posted on flyingclubcup. An additional ten videos will incrementally appear on the site leading to a very rousing finale with "The Flying Club Cup". So stay vigilant. While on the subject, don't miss these Beirut live dates.

09/24 New York, NY @ Society for Ethical Culture (Wordless Music Series w/ Colleen)
09/26 New York, NY @ Delacorte Theater (w/ Colleen)
09/30 Montreal, Quebec @ La Sala Rossa (w/ Colleen)
10/02 Toronto, Ontario @ Danforth Music Hall (w/ Colleen)
10/04 Chicago, IL @ Portage Theater (w/ Colleen)
10/08 San Francisco, CA @ Herbst Theater (w/ Colleen)
10/09 San Francisco, CA @ Herbst Theater (w/ Colleen)
10/10 Los Angeles, CA @ Avalon (w/ Colleen)
10/11 Los Angeles, CA @ Avalon (w/Colleen)

Scherr Show Review In The NY Times.

Tony Scherr's string of residency gigs at Marion’s Marquee Lounge has caught the attention of the NY Times. Scherr's next solo album, Twist in the Wind C, will be released on Smells Like Records later on this year. In the mean time you can catch his live show every Monday night at Marion’s.

Singer-Songwriter’s Soul, the Chops of a Jazzman
Published: September 12, 2007
Online review

Tony Scherr is principally an electric guitarist, and his style is full of boiled-down facility and squirrelly, transformative ideas. At first it’s clear how much specific knowledge he has learned from jazz and blues and country-music languages. After that it’s clear how much he has willed himself to forget it.

Visually, he’s a singer-songwriter in a bar band, not a jazz musician. But his trio’s set on Monday night — a regular gig at Marion’s Marquee Lounge, on the Bowery, with the bassist Rob Jost and the drummer Anton Fier — included huge amounts of improvisation. Not just flat-out soloing, but also improvising with melody lines and with the form of a song.

Some of Mr. Scherr’s songs started as if in the middle, suggested by a few chords and a scrap of a lyric; some seemed chopped off after a chorus or two. Singer-songwriters usually don’t treat their babies this way.

He has played with Willie Nelson on and off, as well as with Bill Frisell and Norah Jones, and, a much longer time ago, jazz bandleaders like Woody Herman and Dakota Staton. Mr. Nelson comes through with special clarity as an influence, especially in the phrasing Mr. Scherr uses to make a pinched, fairly average voice worth listening to.

But his guitar playing has a lot more than that. Mr. Scherr plays on a big scale, from delicate strings of passing chords to blaring, splintery rackets. It’s all dramatic and quite beautiful, and the group breathes together. Like the best late-1960s power trios in rock, it has a constant flexibility, with everyone free to add fills as they want, or leave space open.

The overriding theme in his songs — and those by others, like Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” (done at a crawl) or Fleetwood Mac’s “Over & Over” — is deep loneliness, being on the losing end of a communication breakdown. And this sense of isolation somehow carried through to the whole band’s performance: it was a kind of tunnel-vision session, a deep and rambling dream. (Dreams figure into Mr. Scherr’s songs a lot too.)

His sets usually run to two hours, a stretch for a small band in a small club. But the music never grows dispiriting: it’s a coherent and invigorating two hours, suggesting much about how seemingly disparate pieces of American music can be recombined.

The Tony Scherr Trio plays every Monday at Marion’s Marquee Lounge, 354 Bowery, between Great Jones and East Fourth Streets, East Village;

Monday, September 10, 2007

Akron/Family Album Reviews.

Check out some outstanding Akron/Family press riding on their new album Love Is Simple, which streets next Tuesday September 18th. The Akrons are currently touring the US and Canada and will continue on to Europe this November.

Time Out Chicago / Issue 132: September 6–12, 2007
Album review
By Matthew Lur
Love Is Simple (Young God)

There are certain things ’60s psychedelia trademarked that are too naive ever to make an unironic comeback—among them free love, sunrises and portals. The youthful idealism that seems to cling to every note from the Brooklyn band Akron/Family falls into that group—but the enigmatic quartet also recognizes that just as that decade left us cynical and jaded, it’s also the era most prime for reinvention.

Akron/Family’s fourth album in a furious two-year existence keeps the group’s rickety and inexhaustible spirit roaring ahead. Its touchstones, from the Grateful Dead to Neil Young to Fairport Convention, could easily veer into ostentatious eclecticism, but since Akron/Family doesn’t boast a particularly charismatic singer, the musicians all sing—and play—without

Real Detroit Weekly
By Jeff Milo
Aug 28, 2007

Some Friends That You Should Meet

Akron/Family infect a bristly sort of enjoyable insanity for your mind to fall into; seemingly complete and utter genre defiance, at least on the surface, because certainly on this the folksters and the experimental-rockers and the outsider-sound lovers and the ‘60s-grandiose-starry-eyed-popsters can all groove.

The sounds are free and expressive, like a drum circle in the woods, hallucinogenic visions of heaven itself in the warbled tribal shouts and wild percussions, wavy-scat-like harmonies sing love letters to all of the places that you have known, snaking guitar lines elucidate the crumbling of the boundaries of reality and you’re enveloped by awakening lyrical philosophies like:

“Every precious human being has been a precious parent to you.”

“No point exists.”

“Don’t be afraid, you’re already dead.”

Drummer Dana Janssen casually remarks, “Yeah, that stems from some of the guys being Buddhists … ya know, beliefs of impermanence and what-not …”

“Who are the Buddhists?” I ask of the band, including Seth Olinksy, Miles Seaton and Ryan Vanderhoof.

“Three of the four … and I’m not telling you which one, that’s the game …” his tone is a smarmy Mr. Miyagi, “guess right now!”

“Well, it might be … you?”

“Oooh hoooo,” he responds, “I might not hold my beliefs on my shirt like a badge.”

“I can admire that … am I wrong though?”

Pause. “No, you’re not wrong,” then a hearty laugh.

The Akron/Family is a (sort of) Brooklyn-based quartet of gonzo, neo-bohemian illuminati, obsessed with wispy acoustics, winding vibratos, conflicting contemporary philosophies on post-modernism and juxtaposed down-home-ness with tripped out kaleidoscope atmospherics; pick-up-truck-drivers with Herman Hesse in the glove compartment and astronaut helmets fashioned into banjos and in their eyes you see the errant mysteries of what’s at the end of the galaxy.

Or maybe not, but maybe the swaying sounds of their unpredictable operas: sunny, murky, cacophonous and wandering in their rhythms, are illusory enough in a quasi-holy sort of way that this imagery supernaturally presents itself.

Live shows include the band venturing into the crowd, frugally armed with light instrumentation and mingling with their audience, eventually seducing everyone into sing-alongs with their quirky primordial noise experimentations and stately beards.

“The ‘album’ as a product is really kind of dying,” Janssen says. “(Love Is Simple) is sort of our last attempt to create ‘an album.’ I don’t know if that’s really something people want these days. Popular music changed, these days it’s all candy-pop. Weird stuff … like Maroon 5? What’s up with that?” "Mainstream radio plays the shit out of ‘em and it just legitimizes it; Middle America eats it up,” I offer in my best elitist tone.

“It’s a lack of information …” says Janssen. I offer: “I’m trying to cure that here, writing about bands like Akron/Family.”

He replies: “I’m with ya, man.” | RDW

In the group’s songs, no whim remains unexplored, no harmony stays undoubled and no lyric is unrepeated. Drum circles lead into harmonic-minor field hollers while campfire sing-alongs get stepped on by goofy Silver Apples-esque synthesizers. The frequent call-and-responses between Akron/Family and a bellowing, amateur, mixed-gender choir adds to the raucous all-my-friends-are-here vibe.

“There’s so many colors without the dirty windows,” goes the hook on one of Love’shighlights, a typical schizophrenic try-anything affair. It begins in a bare Gregorian chant before morphing into a Crazy Horse–style dirge, then plummets into a plaintive folk lullaby—all over eight roller-coaster minutes. “Love is simple,” the band sings in a booming four-part chorus on “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead.” Naive? Yes. But also radical.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Galaxia SF Showcase!

Saturday Sept. 15 @ 8 pm

Victoria Theatre, San Francisco, CA.

Tommy Guerrero
Ray Barbee with the Mattson 2
The Mumlers
The Photographic

More A Hawk And A Hacksaw Coverage On Pitchfork

A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble
A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble
[Leaf Label; 2007]
Rating: 7.3

There's a twinkle of lore in A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble, the limited edition, eight-track EP that follows A Hawk and a Hacksaw's best album to date, last year's The Way the Wind Blows. As the band puts it, they "walked into a music store in Budapest, Hungary and walked out with a score of four collaborators versed not only in Hungarian folk, but also...jazz and minimalism." Béla Ágoston, Zsolt Kürtösi, Ferenc Kovács, and Balázs Unger became the ad hoc Hun Hangár Ensemble, sharing their ancestral repertoire with Hacksaw's Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost and allowing the two younger musicians to add their own arrangements and ideas. Such obvious cultural immersion may sound disingenuous or self-serving, but it works here and on the accompanying tour diary DVD, finally allowing A Hawk and a Hacksaw the chance to bloom amid a parcel of the folk heritage from which they've long drawn.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw's growth has always been collaboration-dependent, so this EP, which takes the group's interest in Eastern European folk to more traditionally rooted depth, comes as little surprise. It actually feels natural in a reverse sort of way: The band's eponymous debut was all Barnes, the former Neutral Milk Hotel and Bright Eyes drummer. It was a hodgepodge of American and Eastern European folk-- parlor pianos, singing accordions, generous rhythms and rooster calls-- plied beneath experimentation with tape manipulation, vocal effects, and found sounds like telephone bells. Barnes had gone peripatetic by the second album, Darkness at Noon, dividing his time between his native New Mexico, England and Prague, picking up motifs and players along the way. Violinist and pianist Heather Trost was the one that stuck, joining Barnes for Darkness and The Way The Wind Blows. Those sessions somewhat foreshadowed the work with the Hun Hangár Ensemble, as Barnes traveled to the Romanian countryside to work with folk group Fanfare Ciocarlia. They accompanied Zach Condon on Beirut's Gulag Orkestar, too, and, though they went largely unrecognized for it, it was an indication that A Hawk and a Hacksaw was chipping back towards its source.

This latest collaboration excels in large part because it never tries to shoehorn a mood or sound into the pieces: It flows well, rocking back and forth between vibrant, danceable movements and somber, turgid instrumental numbers. The set's two horas-- a diverse class of Eastern European dances often associated with weddings-- reflect those poles. "Romanian Hora and Bulgar", recorded live last year, is spry, bells splashing out over the accordion's loping rhythm. Its second half is all frenzy, though, a heavy, exuberant, violin-led jump dashing to the audience's delight. But "Oriental Hora" shoots the same cadence through with a thick air of sobriety, a violin and viola doubling the melody until the rest of the band-- tuba, accordion, bouzouki, ukulele and Barnes' glockenspiel and steady foot percussion-- joins.

"Oriental Hora" is one of the EP's rare moments featuring more than a handful of instruments. Despite a core of six musicians and contributors including Zach Condon, the EP rarely attempts to impress with bulk sound or flashy parts. The best work here emphasizes quality not quantity, like the opening Trost composition, "Kiraly Siratás", a duet for bowed strings and the dulcimer-like cymbalom. The traditional Hungarian melodies of "Dudanotak" are played on the bagpipe by Ágoston, but Barnes lends a cantering boom-bap beat that's exuberant and charming. This music is older than both musicians, but in these hands it's got renewed swagger. Coming out of these spectacular sessions, it's more than reasonable to expect the same sort of reinvigorated vibrancy from A Hawk and a Hacksaw in the future.

-Grayson Currin, September 05, 2007