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Published: 2002/10/25
by Jesse Jarnow

A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Jeremy Barnes

Cloud Recordings 002

Reports of
the demise of the Elephant 6 Recording Company have been greatly
exaggerated. For years, the Elephant
6 brand name came in the form of a logo for an imaginary record company
founded by a buncha buddies from Ruston, Louisiana. Their bands – the Olivia
Tremor Control, the Apples (in stereo), Neutral Milk Hotel, and countless
others – came with the E6 seal of approval, a melting psychedelic logo
slapped on the back of their records. Since the boundary lines of their
bands were pretty loose to begin with, the E6 logo was freely stamped on
dozens of discs produced by them, their friends, friends of friends, and
everybody else along the way. It lost its initial meaning as a symbol of a
specific group of people, but made up for it as an indicator of some kind of
approach to music: homemade soundworlds conceived and built by
friends for friends. No, despite the fact that the logo may've been
officially retired, everything that
was good about it lives on.

The newest release to tap into this is Jeremy Barnes' A Hawk and a
Hacksaw. Recorded in the France, the album – comprised of vaguely
psychedelic, piano-based instrumental compositions – is quite lovely and
pastoral in places, and sounds not entirely unlike a Carl Stalling/Raymond
Scott cartoon soundtrack filled with chases, sound effects, and crashing
finales in others. Bells and noises and chickens crowing and fires crackling
and accordions and myriad other sources create sound collages that place the
listener in the middle of a teeming sonic field. Listening with headphones
(as is recommended, quite politely, by the liners) one gleans a distinct
sense of place from the disc. And what a nice place it is.

Describing Stalling's scores for Disney and Warner Brothers, Jason Ankeny
wrote that "frenzied and impassioned, [Stalling's] work broke new ground by
following the visual trajectory of the on-screen action instead of the
accepted rules of composition; the result – a technique not anchored in
conventional senses of time, rhythm or thematic development – was
unprecedented in its extremism, as melody, style and form crashed together
in a glorious pile-up of sound and image." The same might be said for
Barnes' disorienting compositions, which – despite their sheer raucousness
in places – don't inspire particularly chaotic listening. Oddly enough, the
best way to experience A Hawk and a Hacksaw might just be to lying in
a comfy spot with one's eyes closed.

Barnes excels at the blends between instruments. On "To Pine In Time", for
example, sounds of snoring give way to a plucked bass instrument and a
thrift store organ (which sounds suspiciously like the one used on one of
the untitled tracks on Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 masterpiece In The
Aeroplane Over The Sea). The snoring and buzzing continues throughout
the track, but what makes it unique is the relationship between the organ
and the bass. The parts aren't necessarily related rhythmically, the bass
tocking regularly underneath the organ's drone-melody. Yet, the two parts
feed off of each other nicely — their differences creating a kind of
three-dimensionality (one that is underscored as the track melts into
further sound collaging).

Released on Cloud Recordings, a label owned and operated by ex-members of
the Olivia Tremor Control, A Hawk and a Hacksaw is chock fulla E6ers.
Barnes himself used to be (and might still be) a member of Neutral Milk
Hotel, and his bandmates Scott Spillane and Jeff Mangum appear here. There
are Olivias, too, who currently play in a band called The Circulatory
System): John Fernandes and Eric Harris. Derek Almstead from Of Montreal
turns up, also. Precisely the reason the label was killed, though, is
because of descriptions like that: they're neither here nor there, have the
potential to take too much room, and don't do anything useful in actually
describing the contents of the music, which, in this case, is gorgeous and

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