Darkness At Noon by A Hawk And A Hacksaw
Formats: CD (BAY 43CD) Limited Edition Vinyl LP (deleted) (BAY 43V) Digital (BAY 43E)
Release Date: 28 March 2005
Jeremy Barnes is, like his music, nomadic. In the past year alone, he’s lived in England, Prague and New Mexico, gradually gathering the many instruments, musicians and ethnographies that would ultimately appear on Darkness At Noon. Listening to the album is like a journey through a museum of musical instruments at 78 rpm, and leading the way is Mr Barnes, playing accordion, piano and drum passages while the exhibit travels through Eastern European folk traditions, klezmer, mariachi, American folk and modern composition. Multitudes of elements fly by at a frenetic pace, but Barnes remains at the centre, presenting a slideshow of his own world’s folk music.
Half recorded in a British church, the other half in an Albuquerque dance studio, Darkness At Noon breathes life from the cultures through which it travels. Barnes expands A Hawk And A Hacksaw’s membership from one (it was a one-man band on the debut) to many; he employs an orchestra of instruments that careen, carol and collide in melodic parity. A reverential madman, Barnes drops an impassioned bomb on traditional structures, mines feverishly through the wreckage and reassembles pieces with the attentive care given to holy relics. AHAAH employs accordions, harps, ouds, Turkish cumbus, and jaw harps. But everything retains harmonic balance; AHAAH doesn’t break from musical history as much as sing its essential values in wholly new forms.
Taking long walks down Prague’s cobbled streets, Barnes first assembled the entire record in his head. It would begin with a Transylvanian folk melody, warped and reconstructed around improvised trumpet play, whose lyrics were derived from a George Bush speech (‘Laughter In The Dark’). The last sound would be a Derroll Adams cover (‘Portlandtown’), an American anti-war folk song often played by Woody Guthrie, with Pete Seeger’s original banjo part restyled as a piano piece. In between, Barnes would find inspiration for one song while on a train in the Czech Republic, and write another dedicated to Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek (who is the subject of a documentary set for release in 2005 and has an original soundtrack courtesy of AHAAH).
Beginning the album in Leicester then returning to the States, Barnes constructed a band. It includes trumpeter Dan Clucas, who played with Henry Grimes and toured with Arthur Lee on the recent Love tours, and tuba player Mark Weaver, who has done time with Anthony Braxton (the three of them also play in the free-improv Kosmos Spoetzel Orchestra). Heather Trost, who sings, plays violin and piano, performs in a local klezmer ensemble. He also got his mother to play harp, but he kind of already knew her. Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel traveled to New Mexico to contribute as well.
Darkness At Noon unrolls the curtain to a circus of musical curiosities, and Barnes presides over it all with the zeal of a grand conductor. Pick apart the influences if you like, but better to let it fall over you as one unified whole. Touring the world has never been so easy.