Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Counter Intelligence posits some brainy, precise, emotive folk

December 9, 2009

Carl Hauck is a folksy singer who sounds like Andrew Bird if Andrew Bird knew how to have emotions. All of Bird’s work suffers from a disaffected whimsy; it seems that Bird takes bemusement from everything he’s singing and writing about, but does not actually engage with it. Thankfully, Carl Hauck takes the best parts of Bird’s amalgam, adds some of his own, and slathers emotion on it to create Counter Intelligence.

That’s not to say that this is a Damien Rice-esque wailer of an album (not that Damien Rice is bad, but it’s a fair bet that there will be wailing in a Rice album). Hauck’s voice and songwriting are both very pristine, distinct and precise. The lyrics that Hauck produces are all understandable due to his easy tone and clear pronunciation. This is great, because his lyrics are solid. Whether storytelling (“The Rebel”), reminiscing (“Schmaltz”), or speak-singing semi-stories (“Zhuangwho”), you can clearly discern what Hauck has to say.

What’s great is that even though his lyrics are solid (the anti-war “The Rebel” is probably the best anti-war diatribe I’ve heard this year), he doesn’t have to hang his hat on them. His music is just as clever, witty and talented as his tongue. He primarily plays the acoustic guitar, and it’s from that instrument and its melodies that much of the emotiveness of these tunes is drawn. But the acoustic guitar doesn’t bear the whole burden: piano (“The Rebel”) and dreamy electric guitar (“Herrick, You Devil”) make occasional appearances. The extra instruments work perfectly in the context of his folk songs; they fill in gaps instead of taking over songs.

“Herrick, You Devil” is especially enhanced by its extra instrumentation; the eerie feel that Hauck and a female back-up vocalist create is mimicked by the dreamy, cascading guitar. It creates an overall feel of impending dread that only ratchets up higher when they kick in heavy reverb on a piano and the vocals; it turns Hauck and his foil into ghostly apparitions, drawing the song into the transcendent. “Herrick, You Devil” is a highlight track that you probably won’t hum; the mood will just stick with you and the reverb will take up residence in your head.

There are other highlights as well: the oft-mentioned “The Rebel” is a ten minute epic that swoops and leaps through various styles in its story, but it all holds together in a memorable way; “…And Their Hair Looks Like Flocks” invokes the meandering guitar lines of Elijah Wyman. “They Come in Flocks”, which is the companion (at least in title) to the previously mentioned piece feels vaguely like a Nick Drake piece in mood.

Carl Hauck’s folk songs do have nods to many other artists, but the completed product is distinctly Carl Hauck. The album feels tight and cohesive, as there is no letdown between tracks. Each of the songs unfold their own treasures, and because each is a little different, the album travels at a consistent pace. The album is ultimately held together by his clear, distinct vocals, as it’s a real treat to hear them. I would recommend Counter Intelligence to anyone wanting to hear some precise, emotive folk.


Comments: (2)

On December 11, 2009 Brian wrote...

First off, I am a huge fan of Hauck's album: I believe his attention to lyrics is only rivaled by the ridiculous (read: amazing) sound quality he achieves from his modest home recording studio. Having said this, I would like to forewarn of any unfinished thoughts or poor grammar that may ensue: It's early in the morning before a final that I have no interest in studying for and exhaustion will no doubt lead to sloppiness. Anyways... Since Stephen covered the majority of the sonic composition of Counter Intelligence, I thought I might comment upon what I see as the most impressive aspect of this album. Along with expansive and vivid sonic soundscapes and masterful lyrics, Hauck has created an album that is not only stimulating to the ears, but has the ability to insist we think about our existence. ---As I've been writing this response I have been continually trying to keep myself from talking about any common threads or meanings I see in Hauck's creation in fear of being too far off the mark, but what the heck. --- "The Rebel," to me, is less an anti-war song as it is a character study. The story of the rebel is used to force us to look at war as a personal burden more than a national or global burden. It is here that I believe one's opinions on war should be built. Is a nation's interest or one's own personal happiness of more value? What music have you heard lately that insists that you reflect on your beliefs? Track 10, "[redacted]," is a 25 second long time lapse of uncomfortable silence that only goes unnoticed if you are dozing off to sleep at 4 in the morning (guilty). "[Redacted]" may be the most painfully loud track on the album though a meter will be sure to say otherwise. I see this insertion (or perhaps removal, as the title suggests) as the source of separation between Hauck and other like musicians. Hauck, instead of merely making a collection of his most recently written songs, has created/crafted a true art piece of an album. I first noticed the power of "[redacted]" as I sat in a deeply pensive state replaying the last line of "Schmaltz" in my head: "Remember when we were happy honey? Neither do I." I do not believe track 10 was thrown in on a whim: it follows "Schmaltz" deliberately as it allows time for us to try to unearth Hauck's reason for writing, his point, his goal of the album: I think that if Hauck is trying to say one thing- it is that [redacted] I would like to personally add that “…And Their Hair Looks Like Flocks” is the most beautiful song on the album and pulls its power from minimalism and Hauck’s, as Stephen noted, overwhelming amount of emotion and honesty that shines through the music. "Herrick, You Devil!" has always reminded me of "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." by Sufjan Stevens- equally beautiful and haunting. Overall, the album is extremely diverse in texture and melody and contains some of the most insightful and honest lyrics I have ever heard: anyone who has not heard of Carl Hauck is sorely missing out.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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