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.