Ham Steak – I Think Therefore I Ham

Ham Steak
I Think Therefore I Ham

I went into this release with an open mind, despite the drastically poor connotations the band name and album title brought to mind. I understood that Ham Steak – the pseudonym of Connecticut lo-fi musician George Hakkila – was going to be a lo-fi, wit-filled affair, and I wanted to like it. The artwork, by San Francisco artist Carla Avitabile, and the liner notes from three different fans, including New York Times best selling author Ben Hamper, seemed to insist that there was something positive to gain from this release, the musician’s second full-length. So I wanted to like it, and I kept my mind open.
Instead, the only thing I can garner from the cover art and the liner notes comments is that Hakkila is trying, really hard mind you, to get you to listen to his music with an open mind. He – or whoever was behind this release – wants you to think it’s musically worthwhile. Unfortunately, Hakkila doesn’t keep up his end of the bargain musically, and I’m left wondering how I’ve possibly sat through all 19 of these tracks over 45 minutes multiple times.
There’s nothing wrong with lo-fi (or, as Hamper refers to him, schmoe-fi) singer/songwriter fare. In fact, when taken seriously, I find it impressively endearing. Hakkila doesn’t take his music seriously. I don’t mind witty lyrics and playful songs – when done right, it can make for an enjoyable time. But more than his themes, Hakkila doesn’t take his own playing seriously. The recording quality is terrible, the acoustic guitar that makes up the predominant instrument is boring, and Hakkila’s vocals – sung in a baritone that sounds overdramatic and overblown – are annoying by track five.
But, I’m keeping an open mind, as I told you, and somehow I’m able to glean a few bright spots here and there that go beyond the cover art and liner notes. Hakkila shows a penchant for speghetti-westerns and Johnny Cash on the opening “Ham Steak Theme” and brings a simple lo-fi garage-rock sensibility that brings to mind Major Matt Mason USA on “Too Sharp.” Things come together musically and thematically reasonably well on “Thirty-two,” and Hakkila’s rhyme scheme is even endearing. But then he makes fart jokes in “Gastr Del Fart,” repeats endlessly “I pity the fool, I pity the foo-foo” in “Foo-Foo,” and discusses his personal problems in “Pimple the Foot.” It’s amazing anyone can get by these tracks, and the ending – with the almost listenable “He Was Wrong” and “The Quarterback” – suffers for them.
So, in short, this is extremely kitschy music. A million people could make songs like this on a 4-track with an acoustic guitar and a few minutes of drug- or alcohol-induced silliness putting pen to paper. It seems, however, that Mr. Steak has himself a following, and I applaud that. I think he may have some endearing qualities, and I suspect his live shows are enjoyable. But this album is mostly unlistenable, and George Hakkila has done nothing to win me over.