Forest Bathing by A Hawk And A Hacksaw

Release date: April 13, 2018
Label: Living Music Duplication

It certainly is a long way from Albuquerque, New Mexico beltway to narrow streets of many Balkan cities, as is the difference between the sound Jeremy Barnes played as a member of Neutral Milk Hotel and the one he has been pursuing eight albums now with his musical co-traveler Heather Trost. From spirited but a bit amateurish beginnings back in 2002 they have arrived at this – Forest Bathing, certainly their musically most accomplished album to date.

Actually, it has been an evolutionary road for the duo. Sticking with the music that to a lot of Western ears might sound as quirky as Neutral Milk Hotel was considered to be (although there’s not much in common between the two) and something Western musicians, particularly those that came out rock would do as a ‘one album fun only’, Barnes and Trost have turned into serious musical librarians and students of all sounds Balkan, particularly those with a more Middle Eastern tinge. This is particularly true of the music played in the region a couple of centuries ago, and this is where A Hawk & A Hacksaw are located this time around.

Still, while looking at the musical roots of the music that was mostly played in the smoke-filled restaurants of Belgrade, Bucharest or Sofia or Istanbul cafes on both sides of the Bosphorus along with the bubbling sounds of nargila’s (try ‘Alexandria’ or ‘Bayati Maqam’), they do give the music a bit of a modern foil like in ‘Babayaga’ or organ-dominated sound of ‘The Sky is Blue, the Desert is Yellow’. At some point, like in ‘A song for Old People – A song for Young People’ or in the closer ‘The Washing Bear’ you simply cannot distinguish whether this music was recorded in Albuquerque with help of Balkan musicians but also members of Deerhoof, among others, or whether this is a recording from a tiny studio in Ismir.

In many ways, like the title of the album itself (Forest Bathing is actually Shirin-yoku a Japanese trim for “taking in the atmosphere”), the titles of the last two mentioned songs are a bit of a giveaway – ‘A Song for Old People…’ is a great transcription of the musical style known in some Balkan countries as ‘old city songs’, while the brass-driven “The Washing Bear’ is exactly the type of music played by brass bands that accompany the dancing bears, a Balkan tradition that you could probably still stumble upon in some more remote regions of the Peninsula.

What it actually is an extremely well played (and understood) music that was obviously approached with an open heart and without any political, social or other biases that you can still also ‘stumble’ upon in the region.

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