Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Hawk In Paris: Freaks - Music Review

Note.  This is a longer version of a review that now shows up at the appropriate date of 11/12013.   I am keeping this here, without labels, or reference for sharing with a smaller audience.

Band.  The Hawk in Paris.  (Dan Haseltine and friends Jeremy Bose and Matt Bronleewe)
Album: Freaks

Genre:   Modern/Retro synth Pop (of the highest caliber)
Release Date: October 29, 2013
More Info and Orders: Pledge Music

I find there are two ways I can listen to Freaks. 1) Like any other offering I might hear on indie-pop radio (if such a thing exists), or 2) As part of the ongoing sound evolution and spiritual odyssey of Dan Haseltine (frontman for the band Jars of Clay, and now Hawk in Paris.) 

At this point I do not know if Hawk in Paris is just a side project, or the future for Dan and band. (Band:  please forgive me for speaking of the song-craft and writing of the songs as Dan's, when the source may be shared... or yours.)

Way of Hearing # 1)

Utterly delicious ear candy, Freaks… by The Hawk In Paris, blends the sound sensibilities of a band like Depeche Mode, or David Bowie, or Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics  (I am limited to using the folks I know) with folks I know even less…. Like modern robo-singers Owl City or Moby.  There might be better examples, but I am an old man with an ear for Americana, so modern synth pop is a little out of my expertise.  What I do know is that this is a very forward-looking, backward-glance.  To get the idea, think of a classic building (like the Empire State building, forged in the 1920’s -- Then think of a modern building fashioned in the old art deco style, but with all the new technologies and materials.   In that same sense, Freaks takes the sonic landscape of the 1980’s then updates it with all kinds of modern sound wizardry.   We get the big spaces, the sweeping synthesizer,  the Orwellian harmony,  even the desire to dance like a robot…. And all with Dan Haseltine's liquid vocals.  Beyond that, The sound is sophisticated, cool, then dark.

As a pop product, Freaks is simply stellar.   I hear magic.  And chrome, and cleanness, and all these ambient colors of the prism.  I hear too, a gifted singer using auto tune, not to correct his imperfections, but to lean into machine.   If there is anything freaky about Freaks, it is the very idea of the voice of man and the voice of machine twining like the twin rails of a double helix.  Dan at once sounds believably human… .and perfect.   And sorry band mates to focus on Dan, I know your talents are there in abundance… but Dan's voice:   Ambrosia.

As for content, Freaks is given to themes common to teens,  pop music and humankind.   Ie. rejection, Love found.  Love lapping through our dreams,. Love teetering and strained.  Love in the ditch …  Stars in the eyes. etc.   But this is where the pop sensibilities end.   The caliber of the writing is such that it may confuse us to call this “Pop” anything.

On a personal note.    I find this alum is written backwards.  That is, I like all the first songs least, then find my delight grows as we venture in.  (Bad for first impressions, good for glow at the end of the voyage.)   Least favorite song:   Freaks.  Though I very much like the spaghetti western whistle, I still associate the word Freaks with hermaphrodites, deviants, and two headed dogs.  (Mercy for the first)  I can hear the word “outcast, maverick, or nerd” in a positive light, but I do not want to be found alone in the Forest of the Freaks.  (Then I am afraid it is a way of sanctioning moral disobedience.)

Favorite Song, which surprised me, the breakup song, Cannons.  If this song is about the immediate hemorrhaging of a very real marriage, then I am oh so very sorry.   I guess the lyric which hooked my soul was this simple confession…. If you leave me now, you leave me better than I was before.   Kind of nice to hear a confession of love, even in the midst of unravel.

Actually there is one more favorite song.  But it is not on this album.   Turns out that Freaks is a composite offering, with seven selections that appeared in some form on two earlier EPs.  I am trying to find the very rare first EP (Boys and Girls), but the second - Freaks and Outcasts -  is available for everyone by way of Noisetrade.  (Find it here.)  I simply LOVE LOVE LOVE, the song “Dancing in the Rain” (Outcast Mix).  Dancing just brims with all the emotions of first love, I hear a fusion of Vector’s Dance, with all the exuberance of the original dancing in the Rain song, --- My Fair Lady.

Ps. For those who might buy just one song…  Start with 10) Birds on a Wire.  then peck around it.

Final Note:

Name.  Hawk in Paris.   When doing Google search I found the name Hawk in Paris linked to an image… actually an album cover for a work by Coleman Hawkins.   In the end, Dan confirmed what I expected.   (or more see here.)

So.  Final word..  

Beautiful, elegant. Pulsing.  Dreamy, evocative, fresh.  (actually that was six) tempered with a sense of dystopia.

Way of Hearing, Part 2.

I mentioned earlier that there are two ways I can hear Freaks, first as an offering of modern pop (For which is I give it my full star count)  AND as part of the unfolding sound-scape and spiritual pilgrimage of frontman Dan Haseltine.   Here I am hearing on different level, as a fellow traveler with Dan to the Celestial City… and wondering, if perhaps, Freaks may well represent a side track… into the heart of the Vanity Fair.

 (I think Dan will catch the allusion)

There is no way to write this next part without sounding preachy or overreaching, and I am afraid that someone will  say, who are you to second guess, or critique anyone’s spiritual pilgrimage?   (And of course, I am not qualified.)  But I do know that part of what it means to be part of living spiritual body… the body of Christ, is to encourage our fellow pilgrims and brothers, to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.   

When I hear Freaks, I am not sure if I am hearing just good pop, or … something which is kind of like a grand diversion from something ever so much more central, the love relationship at the center of reality.  And if human relationships can ebb and flow, or even break down and wither on the vine, so too can our relationship with the eternal groom.

It is hard not to hear the “dystopian” vibe  inside the shimmer of Freaks.   Yes there is celebration of love.  And yes, there is the angst that goes with splitting (in whatever context), but I am also NOT hearing something I might have heard in the earlier works of Dan, through the mouth of his twenty year old band, Jars of Clay; namely desperate dependence on the God who walks with us.

There is nothing here that  proclaims directly any kind of war with God.  On the other hand, the sound, the glitter, the big city slickness….in combination with the absence of anything that references the larger romance in which we live, hints hard at spiritual malaise.

Am I hearing things?

*the cover graphics too,  characterized by the loss of face, or a mask of sky and earth, only reinforce the idea.  Something is missing.   Something is hid.  Something is out of order in the universe.

Where I started this review, before I wrote everything else.

The Turning/The Incredible Wow.

In the closing years of the 1980s a young female singer, with a growing fan base and critical acclaim within the specialty ranks of the Contemporary Christian Music industry put out an album that sent minor shock waves in the CCM universe.  (I say minor because most everything within the CCM universe is somewhat minor.)  But the shock waves were also minor, because that album, entitle the Turning, did not in itself spell out that Leslie Phillips was scrapping her Christian identify for something else.  Indeed, there are many ways that one may turn.  But the astute recognized something.   The Turning… was a signal.   It felt different.  So, After her final “contractual best of album”  Leslie split the scene, changed her name to Sam, recorded critically acclaimed new music with a wholly different vibe, and pretty much distanced herself from all the work which had defined her before that point. 

I remember reading a review of Sam’s first album as Sam –The review noted that “The Indescribable Wow (with  strong  entendre)”  did not even carry the  aftertaste of her earlier work.
Sam’s new music was so different in both sound and purpose that it called for a whole new identity.   (And that trade has served her well, whatever recognition Leslie received as Leslie, was wholly eclipsed by the critical acclaim and artistic strides she has made as Sam.  

Leslie turned-Sam Phillips showcased one approach to the problem… What do you do when you have so changed as person that you can no longer rightly identify with the person you were. 

Case 2)

Mark Heard/Ideola!
I hadn't meant to go here, but this one just popped up in my brain.
If I were to count the one singer that I might really give my eye-teeth for, or even an arm to bring him back, it would be folk rocker, singer song writer Mark Heard.  (1951-1992 ) As is, I live in, and find my sense of the world as a broken place has been largely fed by the song craft of Mark heard.

As it is, Mark recorded one project that didn't bear his name.  The “self titled” album by one-shot wonder  “Ideola” could easily have born Mark's name… the writing and voice were clearly his, but the Sound… Oh that sound….Much darker, denser, and angrier than any work that preceded it.  Ideaola! was marked by double duty percussion, slamming car hoods, jack hammers, singing ghouls…. Etc. You can pretty much take the music of Mark and speak of who he was pre Ideola! and who he was after.  Pre Ideola!:   Mark was never part of the Christian music mainstream, but I did have the sense that he spoke and sang as a man who desired to know Christ and make him make him known.  Call him a poet apologist.

Post Idoela.   Mark shed his identity as a musician working in the insular world of Christian music.   I never had the sense that Mark stopped being a Christian, but his mission changed. As it is, you can readily hear a transformation is the character of Marks faith over the span of some ten albums.  Earliest work, simple faith.  Easy in the arms of Jesus.  Later albums.  Brooding, artful, uncertain.   You had a sense that Mark was tangling with two worlds -- the world of art and film and all that man had to offer… and the world beyond this, with its shattering claims.  Mark’s friends would later release the music  he was working on before his death.  I sense even here, that he was in a battle for his ultimate affections.  But with blazing hiccups.  One of Mark’s last recorded songs was nothing other than an old Hymn, I know that my redeemer L ives  … (and that he lives to heal my broken heart.)    Talk about spooky… in holy way.   Mark died of a heart attack.   Nothing like hearing a man who has died of bad heart, singing about the power of the resurrection…. And the promise, all the more real, that Christ would heal his broken heart.   

Anyway, not sure why I went there. 

Case 3

Jars of Clay (Inland) / Hawk in Paris (Freaks)

As a long time fan of Jars of Clay, I would love nothing more than to sit down with front man Dan Haseltine and have a full orbed conversation about where he is both as an artist and spiritual pilgrim.   It seem pretty obvious to me that Dan is going through some major changes .  On both counts. 

His album (or the Jars of Clay) album, Inland – like the Turning of an earlier generation, indicates a profound change in direction.  (You can read my review of that album here.)  What I do not know is how “deeply” to read that change.   Do these changes simply represent a day trip, artistic evolution, or a wholesale shift in world view.  I do not know.  What I do know that when I compare the music of Dan Haseltine (as frontman for Jars of Clay, and Dan Haseltine of Hawk in Paris, is that this is the music of a different “person.”  The musicality and vocal chords may be the same.  But the thoughts and sounds belong to different worlds.

Jars = Accousta Rock.   
Hawks = electra-pop (with a heavy 80s vibe.) 
Jars = strong vertical connections.  
Hawks =  Romance of the human kind.   
Jars, foreboding  vibe in a God haunted world.
Hawks:  nervy undercurrents in glittery new world of gadgets and machines.

This new music simply lacks the aftertaste of the former.


Actually there should be no surprises here.   Dan has been very forthright on the pages of his blog that he is in a middle space, characterized by a lack of spiritual certitude.       I guess it just takes a bit for us… those of us who have loved his music over the decades to fully absorb these changes.  We read what he is saying or even shouting through song, but then have trouble hearing it because it doesn't fit with what we want for him. (or what we want for us.)

And now the preachy part.


Having loved your music for many years, and finding myself fed by your heart toward God,  I pray that you not forsake your First love.   I hope that your new trajectory brings you great success, appropriate recognition, and hope and that people learn from your vulnerability.  I hope too, that people get to know your voice, and more importantly your song craft. Finally, I really appreciate the fact that you have given a glimpse of your struggles through your blog and music.   I really dig the new sound.  On the other hand,   I also know that praise, recognition, and a host of new friendships can be a distraction from that which your heart most needs.  I pray that the same pleading you might apply to romance of the human kind, reaches upward, inward and beyond – to the very Lover of your Soul.