Being a fan of what I’d heard of Hawk in the past, I have to say when this flashed up in my inbox, I was as delighted as I’ve been since I won a participation medal in my school’s sports day back in 1998. In this job I don’t seem to get enough opportunity for good things to say about bands and Hawk is definitely one of those I could see myself reviewing with the wild, trembling positivity only a junky can possibly know. Maybe to the point of jumping up and down on a chair, professing my love for some of their previous work – Clock Hands in particular, if I’m to name names.
Anyway, my ear-crush aside, Hawk have a new offering for us in the form of a single called Glass. It’s already been well-received across the Narrow Sea (England, not Essos), with people rushing to sing Hawk’s praises on yet another musical coup. I’m not going to waste your time telling you what the BBC or any given radio DJ thinks of it; if you want to know, I’m sure their thoughts on Glass are easy enough to find out there on this interweb thing.
Originally inspired by the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign, about which I’m sure we’re all sick to death of hearing by now, on the surface Glass seems to fancy itself a bit of an anthem. Now, this is just one man’s opinion – and a bitter, cynical son of a bitch of a man, too, in the interests of full disclosure – but I’m more in tune with the ‘art pour l’art’ school of thinking when it comes to music. Last time I checked, social reform is not, by any definition, art. Obviously there are some exceptions, and by the end of this, we may add Hawk to that list, but by and large, I like my music to be staunchly apolitical, because it should be able to stand on its own musically, with no distraction. So, with all this acclaim and pandering to the societal buzz-word of the minute, what do I think about the important thing? What do I make of the music?
The vocals are, without a moment’s hesitation, beautiful. I can’t make out more than a word or two of what she’s saying in this studio version and that may come to light in a stripped-down acoustic set some time in the future, but with the carousel guitar, it drifts along so nicely that it really doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s not all that important to me anyway – this isn’t critical analysis; I’m in it for the sound, not the message. As far as vocal melody goes, Ms Hawk has put her best foot forward and I don’t mean in a step… this is an Olympic long-jump of a vocal if we’re sticking to that metaphor. The guitar is simple, rudimentary even, but it’s all done with a greater plan in mind: to play up Hawk’s greatest asset – that vocal. It’ll be the soundtrack to your art-house, monochrome dreams for the next month, of that I can guarantee.
As far as the backing track goes, I won’t pussyfoot around; it’s not blowing me away. Something about this is throwing me off. Hawk definitely sound like Hawk and almost nobody else, although there could be grounds to compare this to any number of new-agey female vocalists that in reality, pale beside them. They’re unique in what they’re putting out there, but I get the feeling that there’s just something lacking in this instance, in this track, and I think I’ve found something to pin down.
It’s the drums that aren’t working in my mind. I love them – there’s a bit of a shuffle to them and enough going on that they’re interesting in themselves – but not for this track. To me it’s something a jazz virtuoso would be playing to spice something up, not what would seem to be the intention with the rest of the track. I get that it adds another element to what is otherwise, a fairly straight-forward piece, but if you’re stripping something down for emphasis on this vocal, I don’t think the track needs the distraction. That’s not an indictment or anything, just something that didn’t quite hit the mark in my ear on my first listen. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch.
To address the socio-political element I so heartily and prematurely dismissed early on, there’s nothing being pushed here. There’s no repetitive VOTE YES chorus being piledriven into your ears. God only knows why I got so worried when I saw the origin of the song, but Hawk, I’m so sorry I doubted you.
Glass is beautiful, it’s delicate, it’s even intense when it comes to the ringing out that builds later on in the track. As far as I’m concerned, Hawk have hit one of those baseball trebles; it’s not the full home run, but given that the plates were loaded from the get-go, there’s still going to be at least 3 points on the board and someone itching to steal home. Glass isn’t Hawk’s best work, but that said, it’d take something seriously special to be. This is a seriously cracking band and they’ve come out with something that is well above par by anyone else’s standards.
A word on the video, directed by the wonderful James Byrne. Admittedly, I didn’t know any of his work before this, but you can be sure I’ll know him from now on. It’s a great concept and it fits the song so well, it’ll be hard to imagine anything else the next time I hear Julie Hawk’s exquisite voice.
Be sure to look them up on soundcloud, too and let them know what you think. The song’s available to download for free this summer, so get it onto your iPod and go to the park while the weather’s nice.