The Hawk in Paris’ “His + Hers”

“‘His + Hers,’” is a relationship record that deals with a wide breadth of associated issues that are well served by the synthesizer driven pop music.” -Cameron Barham

Cameron Barham
The Hawk in Paris

out of 10

The Hawk in Paris
His + Hers
September 13, 2011

We are nostalgic by nature, and no force elicits memories from our past quite like music. The Hawk in Paris (a reference to Coleman Hawkin’s 1956 experimental jazz album, “The Hawk in Paris”), comprised of Dan Haseltine (lead singer of Jars of Clay) and writer/producers Jeremy Bose and Matt Bronleewe, has created an excellent soundtrack for those of us who experienced high school dances and the resultant awkward relationships in the mid ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. Their new 7-song EP, “His + Hers,” is a relationship record that deals with a wide breadth of associated issues that are well served by the synthesizer driven pop music. It calls to mind an era shaped by the cinematic musings of John Hughes who perfectly captured the teenage relational awkwardness in a winsome but serious way in such classics as “Weird Science,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink.” “His + Hers” also calls to mind the musical landscape of that period as shaped by bands like Depeche Mode, OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark), the Pet Shop Boys, Peter Schilling, and the Cure. This synth-pop sound has been making its way back into our current pop music culture like many of the other defining elements from that time. Bands like the Postal Service, M83, Owl City, Matthew Ryan on various projects, and Derek Webb’s brilliant but risky “Stockholm Syndrome” have incorporated the signature synth-electronica sound from the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. Like Webb, Haseltine is taking a bit of risk with this project given its departures both musically, thematically, and lyrically from his work with Jars of Clay (“Good Monsters” comes the closest). However, I think the result was ultimately worth the risk.

Overall, the Hawk in Paris has put together a sound homage to the music of mid-‘80’s and early ‘90’s. The cover art beautifully captures the mood of the EP which is often overlooked as a component of a project’s whole execution. Haseltine’s vocals and lyrical observations fit this project like a glove. I am interested to see how this affects the future work of Jars of Clay which I thought hit their stride with “Good Monsters.” The production and musical execution is accomplished flawlessly which is a testament to Bose and Bronleewe’s abilities as musicians and producers. I docked this record 1 point for not including a cover song from the aforementioned era which these guys could have done an incredible job interpreting. This EP was made to include a cover!

“His + Hers” opens with the first of two versions of “The New Hello.” The “(Hers)” version is by far my favorite of the two with its booming bass drum, atmospheric musical tones, and more spacious pacing with Haseltine’s vocals unfiltered. It poetically captures in the verses the relational tension experienced at post-football high school dances where anticipation ran high and execution low: “She was falling down the mountain, an avalanche of human stone; And as she tumbled to the valley, she thought she’s better off alone; He felt the pressure of a million miles underneath the sea still taking in water from a love that couldn’t be.” The pre-chorus and chorus comes off purposefully clichéd in contrast to match the tone and sentiment of the scene being set: “It was girls on the one side, boys on the other; no one was dancing or looking for love. Sometimes it’s over before it begins; no one takes a risk and everyone wins; If you love someone then let them go; ‘Cause good-bye is the new hello, the new hello.” The album closes with the “(His)” version which is distinctly different from the “(Hers)” version, however, it loses the high school dance atmosphere in the music. The processing of the vocals was too much at times during the song as well. I have to admit that I am not a fan of putting two versions of the same song on a record which resulted in another point deduction. The band explains their reasoning for the inclusion of both songs in their interview with Stereo Subversion. Again, this would have been a great spot for a cover.

The second song, “Put Your Arms Around Me,” is the most accessible for fans of Jars of Clay who may be concerned that Haseltine may have been possessed by the demented spirit of the Flock of Seagulls. It is an anthemic musing on the overall struggle for people to relate to one another and find meaning in our current cultural context. This is not new territory as Switchfoot and Matthew Ryan often wrestle with similar issues, but the Hawk in Paris place their own spin on the issue. The second verse exposes the problem well: “We’ve finally disconnected, we are unemotional; and the anthems we are singing, don’t mean anything at all; we’re afraid of our conclusions, what we love will kill us first, and the way to tell the difference from what we hate, only makes things worse.” The music layers and builds with a “Baba O’Riley”-esque synthesizer loop dropping in and out throughout the song with it climaxing at the end with drums, guitar, and synthesizers coming in together as Haseltine achingly calls: “Put your arms around me, put your arms around me now.”

The EP slows and darkens a bit for “Curse the Love Songs” and “Between the World and You.” The way the synthesizers come in on the chorus of “Curse the Love Songs” is truly cinematic and would have fit perfectly in several key scenes in “Pretty in Pink” as a companion to OMD’s “If You Leave.” “Between the World and You” is the most industrial track with its driving bass, heavy, reverberated drums, and overbearing minor synth chords. It calls to mind Nine Inch Nail’s “Pretty Hate Machine” and the Cure’s “Disintegration” both of which played a significant role in the darker portion of my teen years. Neither song is lyrically complex, but it seems to suit the mood and musical focus of the songs well.

The pace picks up and becomes danceable on “Science Fiction.” This track reminds me of the band Joy Electric and made me actually tap my foot which is a feat in and of itself. This is the weakest track lyrically on the EP in my opinion. Its content (robots and post-apocalyptic themes) just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the songs. I just couldn’t connect with the song’s other worldly focus which resulted in a .5 point deduction. The only space songs I make exceptions for are David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home),” and the Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1.”

The sixth track, “Simple Machine,” showcases Haseltine at his observational and lyrical best. It reminds me of some of Donald Miller’s discussions on the nature and complexity of love and relationships especially when he asks his film students to list out the steps for falling in love only to watch them act out the futile charge of the Light Brigade. The track begins with the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar and harpsichord- and harp-like notes only to give way to deeper, darker synthesizers and drums accompanying the first two verses which honestly and painfully observe: “Who are the architects who stand by their design, it doesn’t work, there is no use for it that I can find, and why can’t the heart be a simpler machine, why does love remain a mystery; dinner conversations after years of getting cold; the things that made us fall in love in houses that we sold, the ghosts of indiscretion pulled the rugs from under me, why does love remain a mystery.” The song continues with complimentary dynamic and variance as he laments: “We cite longevity for a reason we’re still here, is another anniversary just another day I fear?” There are too few love songs with this kind of honesty.

The Hawk in Paris succeeds in stirring my secret love for the synth-pop music and its associated emotions from the mid-‘80’s and early ‘90’s. While jelly shoes were a horrific aberration from the same era, there is nothing wrong with getting excited when General Public’s “Tenderness” comes on the ‘80’s station sparking a re-enactment of Anthony Michael Hall’s drunken dialogue from “Weird Science.” I am thankful for the reminder.

I hear that the band is in the studio working on a full-length release for spring of next year. I look forward to hearing more from the Hawk in Paris. For more information and the opportunity to hear “His + Hers,” check out their Facebook Page. You can also get more insight on the Hawk in Paris from the Noisetrade interview with Dan Haseltine.