A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Forest Bathing
Lm Dupli-Cation – 13 April 2018
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Heather Trost and Jeremy Barnes have been playing together as A Hawk and a Hacksaw for more than a decade and a half, so vibrant and self-contained does each new release sound. The basic premise here is the same as it has always been – a unique brand of Eastern European-influenced avant gypsy folk shot through with an interpretive, modernistic slant. It is rawer, more organic and more experimental than fellow travellers like Beirut (with whom both Trost and Barnes have played in the past), but is very much rooted in a distinctly American, and very rural, outsider aesthetic.
Forest Bathing sees them take this rural side seriously. It is an album of forking paths, taking in influences from Albania, Turkey, Serbia, Romania – a whole swathe of European musical forms, often in the space of a single tune. But more importantly, it maps an imaginative world, where connections are made between cultures almost subconsciously within a musical framework. A Broken Road Lined With Poplar Trees is a case in point, a dusty swirl of eastern melody in which a nostalgia for home meets and mingles with the need to travel. The Sky Is Blue, The Desert Is Yellow, which is as stark as its title suggests, represents the map’s emptier, more unforgiving terrain.
The duo are equally successful when painting more literal vignettes. Opening track Alexandria uses former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Barnes’s Persian hammered dulcimer to conjure up the dreams of a merchant trader, while A Song For Old People/A Song For Young People has one of those descriptive and often exciting midpoint tempo shifts that have become one of the band’s calling cards, allowing a tune to both wallow and frolic, and The Shepherd Dogs Are Calling is darkly dramatic and tautly paced.
There are nods to a hidden world, too: a realm of fairy tales. The cheeky clattering dance of Night Sneaker is like the soundtrack to a rats’ nocturnal tea party, while The Magic Spring has a sad but intoxicating shimmer, a shady grove of a tune carried along by Trost’s mournful violin, and Babayaga is brief wonderfully discomforting. Sam Johnson guests on trumpet, most notably on The Washing Bear, which is ragged but inventive. Forest Bathing’s final track, Bayati Maqam, is perhaps its most representative, bringing together the album’s literal and imaginative worlds in a sustained tour de force. Bayati is an Arabic and Turkic musical mode, and also a reference to the idea of home – an apt end to an album about various facets of travel.
Forest Bathing’s title refers to the Japanese idea of shinrin-yoku, the act of visiting a forest for its health-giving properties. It’s an interesting choice, given the album’s European roots and American makers, but it is not as incongruous as it might seem: as I’ve already said, A Hawk And A Hacksaw’s music is all about making connections between cultures, and in that respect, their latest release is one of the widest-ranging and most daring yet.
Order via Living Music Duplication: http://lmduplication.com/lm19.html
13/06/18 Chico, CA, Naked Lounge
14/06/18 San Francisco, CA Rickshaw Stop
15/06/18 Los Angeles, CA Resident
16/06/18 Phoenix, AZ, The Lunchbox
18/08/18 Glanusk Estate, UK Green Man Festival