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I See Hawks in L.A.

New Kind of Lonely

(Western Seeds; US: 6 Mar 2012; UK: 6 Mar 2012)

A small gem chock-full of true and heartfelt Americana.

I See Hawks in L.A. have established themselves by virtue of not only skill but also importance. They’re a fixation of Los Angeles and are making some of the most beautiful and well-crafted Americana of just about anyone. Very few artists can present Americana in its truest form, a melting pot of American traditional music, yet New Kind of Lonely is the perfect presentation of that understanding.


First and foremost, it’s all acoustic and was recorded live—in a circle, no less. That sort of home-spun vibe imbues the entirety of New Kind of Lonely and it’s hard not to be won over by the band’s commitment to that aesthetic, which is an unbelievably natural fit. That aesthetic acts as another one of New Kind of Lonely‘s many hard-won victories. I See Hawks in L.A. understand their roots to the fullest degree and do them all justice on every single track.


New Kind of Lonely introduces itself perfectly with “Bohemian Highway”, a mid-tempo number that’s wonderfully orchestrated with finger-picking arrangements to be envied and a campfire melody worthy of country classics. It also provides an insight to the mood and content of the record. New Kind of Lonely is largely a celebratory record in feel, yet the fixation with death and the darker aspects of humanity permeates the record. However, the two are balanced so artfully that it makes New Kind of Lonely a strange prairie home companion to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which was the last record to become notable for accomplishing that
difficult feat.


“Dear Flash” and “The Spirit of Death” continue to demonstrate I See Hawks in L.A.‘s vice-grip on their pursuit of that down-home sound, with “The Spirit of Death” having a burst of exhilarating inspiration in its closing moments. At times, that down-home sound is so convincing that it recalls the works of a little-known backwoods theatre production that had small theatrical runs released to enormous acclaim in a remote region of Wisconsin. That small production company was called American Folklore Theatre and they held many of the same influences and debts that New Kind of Lonely owns and owes. That the two entities line up so seamlessly is
unsurprising, considering their respective pedigrees and tendencies. There’s skilled players in spades, content both humorous and human presented with a certain familial sense and admirable pluck. It’s extremely evident on standout track “I Fell in Love With the Greatful Dead” which recounts actual encounters members of I See Hawks have had with that legendary bands live show.


To attempt to describe the majority of these songs with in-depth precision would be doing a disservice to the freewheeling vibe New Kind of Lonely so effortlessly conjures and exudes. Every song on this record has one or two incredibly strong moments (see: the chorus in “Mary Austin Sky” or the melody in “Younger But Wiser”) but as wholes are individual masterpieces in miniature, true to form. “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” might be the hardest-hitting and fiercest track on this collection but unfortunately represents the point where New Kinds of Lonely‘s only fault is evident; it’s just too long. At nearly any point on the record, and even more certainly in a live setting, “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” would light everything on fire, from the hay to the barn to the logs that it’s easy to imagine these songs being played around.


The final two songs are both fine songs but suffer, only slightly, from the record’s length and their placement. While they do make sense as the closers in a long sequence with their soft end-of-the-night restraint, it’s clear that they also would’ve benefited from being a part of a shorter record. Taken on their own, they’re beautiful ruminations on love and loss (especially “Your Love is Going to Kill Me”) and would certainly bring a campfire, barn, or bar show to a satisfying close. Ultimately, that might be what New Kind of Lonely aims for; the complete story. The fact that they pull it off next to flawlessly even with the padded length is something worth celebrating and it’d be difficult to imagine anything better than the record itself as the soundtrack.

Rating:

Steven is a writer, musician, and filmmaker from Wisconsin who has spent his fair share of time in the entertainment trenches. He frequently contributes reviews and interviews to Playground Misnomer, which can be accessed here: http://www.playgroundmisnomer.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @unbusyinwi.


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