It's been about seven years since Neutral Milk Hotel went on indefinite "hiatus." Since then the band's drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Barnes has kept busy with a great many projects, not the least of which is A Hawk and a Hacksaw, which kinda sounds like a traditional Hungarian folk band being raped by jazz nerds. The Way the Wind Blows is a more defined, less experimental recording than the first two Hacksaw releases. The album opens with "In the River," a carnival funeral march that builds slowly with drowsy vocals, slinking accordion and the occasional pit stop for horn and string breaks. The violin part on "Waltz for Strings and Tuba" almost sounds like the refrain from "Ave Maria," bouncing atop a skeletal percussion that plods along in 3/4 time. For all its swelling trumpets and slithering gypsy violin flourishes, the stuttering rhythm of "Fernando's Giampari" still sounds like that Rush song "YYZ." "Salt Water" is an ominous piano crawl beneath sawing strings and muted horns that doesn't actually end so much as it convulses to an inevitable conclusion. Overall the album feels like a motion picture soundtrack, capturing a particular period and scoring memorable dramatic scenes with graceful complexity. Barnes' immense songwriting talent and mastery of traditional folk instruments keep The Way the Wind Blows from otherwise sounding like a psychedelic klezmer opera being performed by Danny Elfman and a horde of heavily sedated grinder monkeys.
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