A Hawk and a Hacksaw
A Hawk and a Hacksaw

By Vernon Crane

If i said that track one consisted of needlepoint keyboard arpeggios hammered out on a peat- and dung-encrusted upright piano in a barn at midnight in northern France while a wheezing accordion jostles for space and an old drunk keeps cranking up the turntable speed on a gramophone he's found abandoned under the silage heap in the far corner, then you'd probably have a good idea of the fairly singular area of the entertainment industry that A Hawk and a Hacksaw are trying to claim as their own.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw occupy a kind of odd, Dada-ist, late-modern, rural non-idyll of the 1920s and 30s, Weimar, the Bierkeller, the cabaret, slapstick and surrealism. If Philip Glass had got together with nurse with wound circa 'sylvie and babs' they might have come up with something like this, Glass's avant-classicism constantly undercut by Stapeleton's cut and paste, country-boy paganism. Like Stapeleton's work much of A Hawk and a Hacksaw edges onto the creepy, full of incoherent chanting, bursts of distorted horn and scratchy electronics, stable noises, farm equipment rattling and clanking, the ambience of late night, wrong turns on back roads, Blair Witch weirdness. A Hawk and a Hacksaw know that night time in the countryside can be a deeply unsettling affair and it's this grasp of the sinister that just stops some of the tracks from descending into the merely fatuous. The overall effect is the sort of queasy folk disorientation Current 93 or Death in June often aim for, but without pushing on or back any further into the deeply disquieting, pre-modern majesty of say, Nocturnal Emissions' Stoneface.

Why anyone would aim for that – and why anyone would listen to it – remain moot points for many, but there's no doubt that A Hawk and a Hacksaw is accessible and engrossing, if infuriating. As a result it finally outstays its welcome. The problem with the frenetic, cut and paste ethic versus say, a minimalist, repetitive ethos is that it constantly undercuts the listener's attention and desire to engage with and explore the sounds qualities, the mind can't roam, relax or luxuriate, and eventually the barrage of disjunctions just wears the listener down. A Hawk and a Hacksaw spends most of its time just on the right side of that line, but never really manages to elevate itself above the level of an engaging curio.
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