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A Hawk and a Hacksaw - You Have Already Gone to the Other World

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Artist: A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Album: You Have Already Gone to the Other World

Label: L.M. Duplication

Review date: May. 6, 2013

The title You Have Already Gone to the Other World, with it’s ominous snap, sounds like it was coined while hanging out with Michael Gira (which the duo has been doing as go to openers for Swans.) But it’s more grounded than that. The words come from the 1964 film from the U.S.S.R. depicting Ukrainian mountain villagers, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors. The film is equal parts fable and reconstruction of 19th folk culture, elegiac and immersive in a way that’s similar to the migrant worker life in Days of Heaven, but with raw and fantastic images that stab like Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Gone to the Other World could also apply to the arc of Jeremy Barnes’s career. If his beginnings are in indie rock, there’s only very faint traces left on this record. The change has come in steps. Barnes and violinist Heather Trost have developed an interpretation of Eastern European music with a naturalness that’s grown beyond investigation and fusion. When Adam Strohm reviewed 2009’s Délivrance, he observed that the most effective tune on the album felt Western, there’s an undeniable bluesy whine to "Lassau.” Another earlier track, "God Bless the Ottoman Empire," grafted a psychedelic Beatles chant on a traditionally Turkish arrangement. And Barnes organized the Slavic backing for Beruit’s Gulag Orkestar, transplanting indie croon onto a gypsy body.

On Other World, those kinds of blends are absent. As casual listening, the fiddle work on "Dance Melodies from Bihor County" could be mistaken for Appalachian reels, a save for when the scales take a distressing dip, marking it with an Eastern sorrow. It’s all traditional Romanian, though, not an American old time number. In both schools of folk dance, those repeating motifs are there to keep the feet moving, to keep it cycling endlessly. That dip though, the minor key tension of Eastern Europe, is distinct, and the sorrow is potent. When it’s been incorporated into a rock context, it’s as misused as often as not, fueling Nico’s journey into oblivion just as surely as it egged on Amanda Palmer’s ascent as the most oblivious musician working today. Barnes and Trost play with an expansive tightness that’s not far off from an actual Romanian wedding band . And indeed, their website still advertises that they’re available for wedding bookings.

So for the bulk of Gone to the Other World, they play it straight, presenting folk melodies in an unhampered state. Traditional numbers are half the running time, and most of the originals would pass on their own. By the end, however, drones grow beyond long wheezes on the accordion; "Oh Lord, St. George, Bewitch Ivan, Make him Mine" collects keyboard tones in a dirge that hits low bass notes, and "The Sorcerer" sinks into feedback, collaged with dialog from the aforementioned film. There are other odd noises and sound effects, but they can be hard to place. Are the barking dogs that appear near the end "Bihor Country" an addition to the mix, a reference to the film, or a side effect of recording with pets near by? The way Other World passes between spontaneity and artifice, it’s hard to tell.

While the album stands well on its own, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors provided an essential scaffolding. Barnes and Trost trace over musical refrains from the film, beginning with the Alpine horn blasts that repeat through the movie, and twanging a Jew’s harp on "Marikam, Marikam" just as villagers do throughout the original. For all its cataloging of Ukrainian culture, the film is very much a product of the 1960s. In a world apart from the era’s flower power, there’s a back-to-the-land idealism and a pagan sensuality that shows that both sides of the Cold War were growing suspicious of orderly society. The Soviets jailed director Sergei Parajanov for his deviations from socialist realism. While Shadows is generous with traditional music, there’s also jarring orchestral themes worthy of Elmer Bernstein, and it’s the latter that appears to have guided Barnes and Trost.

Rather then using Slavic and Balkan scales as culture-shock embellishment for Anglo forms, or becoming overly enthusiastic with the mesmerizing drones of Bulgaria, the duo work like soundtrack artists on setting scenes. This lets them glide past the baggage of cultural tourism (which, to my ears, sinks Beruit). They’ve found a structure that supports their affection for this music — Parajonov’s images are old and odd, ancient even, but jarringly modern in their presentation. His bluntness isn’t exactly the same as hippy bluntness, but he partakes in the world-wide mind expansion of the time.

This is good footing for a band based in Albuquerque. Like Parjanov, they’re recreating a not-quite-real past rather than trying to find a home in distant land. When they incorporate noise into recording, it doesn’t intrude on the acoustic playing. When they experiment with production, such as cutting the treble off of high-ranged zither, the effect is like altering the stage lighting. If the music clanks and cries, it’s not for exotic affect, like turning letters backwards to make Cyrillic.

That other world? They arrived there on foot.

By Ben Donnelly

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Find out more about L.M. Duplication

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