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Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble 

Plastic Bag in the Tree (Hush Records)

Wednesday, Jun 6 2007
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You know those house parties that inevitably wind up as drunken 3 a.m. jams? Imagine that scenario, except instead of your glassy-eyed friends playing the same four chords on beat-up guitars and bongos, they're shredding the hurdy gurdy, a hammered dulcimer, and something called a saz. That's the gist of this one-off from Decemberists guitar/strings guy Chris Funk, who discovered upon moving to Portland's Mississippi neighborhood that he'd lucked into talented music-geek neighbors. They'd get together for occasional parlor jams at Funk's place, and someone had the good sense to hit record. The resulting 15-track album comprises hazy instrumental originals like "Give Back the Recycle Bin Now!" plus a handful of semi-obscure covers from Radiohead, the Pretenders, and others, the most recognizable being a vox-free version of Massive Attack's "Teardrop." Genre-hopping from honky-tonk to raga to eerie circus music, the album's shambling spacescapes allow the mind to wander into whack territory without the benefit of a vocal guide (except when the finale of "The Turtle's Voice Rests in Peace Just Outside Salem" turns into an operatic hymnal). Sure, Plastic Bag in the Tree is a mess at times — 3 1/2 minutes of computer-generated spacewalks can become grating. But something about Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble's combination of ancient instruments and ego-less playful experimentation is also downright transcendent. — Maya Kroth

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Maya Kroth

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