Gerald Hawk – King of the River Canoe

Gerald Hawk
King of the River Canoe

I like to think I’m a fairly open-minded music critic. While it’s unlikely that a picture of John Cage will show up on my nightstand any time soon, my tastes are reasonably diverse, and I try not to turn my nose up at anything without giving it a thorough listen. Occasionally, after hearing my 10th straight Guided By Voices rip-off, I really want an album to be so frustratingly weird that it shatters my preconceived notions about music and shakes up my musical preferences. Gerald Hawk is trying to give me what I want.
Standing at the intersection of disturbed beat poetry, shattered song structure, found percussion and demented phrasing is Gerald Hawk. With 12 title-less tracks, few of which even remotely resemble songs of any sort, Hawk makes mood music for people who are too crazed to not know that they aren’t listening to a folk symphony. Most tracks feature little more than Hawk singing/talking his lyrics, usually in a slurring drunken delivery or a schizophrenic “this is how it is” phrasing, while another voice whispers the lines simultaneously on another track. The cumulative affect is somewhat disturbing, as your mind has trouble focusing on just one voice and deciphering what is being said. The textural background is generally composed of randomly strummed guitar and thudding, cavernous percussion. No choruses. No melodies. No rhythms. Just an abstract version of musical outsider art.
Strangely, for an album that features little more than mood and imagery, Hawk has obscured a good portion of his word output, as his voice is muffled and distorted so much that many lines can’t be made out. When the words are clear, they can be quite off-putting, with death threats and rather blunt sexual metaphor being employed. In short, Hawk’s characters are the kind of people that most of us wouldn’t really want to meet on a rural country road.
No doubt, a similar approach has been used by Tom Waits in the past on tracks like Mule Variations‘ “What’s He Building” or Rain Dogs‘ “9th & Hennepin.” But while those tracks were certainly entertaining, do you really want a whole album of them? I don’t know about you, but I buy Tom Waits records to hear his songs, not his sound effects and creepy voices.
So, what you have with King of the River Canoe is an album’s worth of darkly hued mood music for days…when you need that kind of stuff. I guess. I really don’t know what you do with it on the other days of the week. You’re not left with any particular songs in your head, nor specific stories to reflect on – just a general uneasy feeling. Keep it around and scare the kids away from your house on Halloween if nothing else.