After listening to the first two tracks of Plastic Bag In The Tree, the average listener will probably think to themselves, "this sounds like the kind of music that a bunch of friends getting around and jamming together on the back porch might make." Although it's a slight bit more high-fidelity than most picking and grinning projects (it does contain a load of synths and even some horns, after all), Flash Hawk Parlour Ensemble is indeed just that, actually. Chris Funk, who is also the lead guitarist for The Decemberists (and also the man who guitar-dueled with Stephen Colbert on an infamous episode of his show) has assembled a bunch of neighborhood friends for this batch of layered folk-ish tracks that are charming and at times completely surprising.
Right about now might be the best time to mention that the group (which includes contributions from roughly fifteen people) also has several instrumental cover songs on the album, and they include two well-known tracks by modern artists and two well-known ones by classic ones as well. And so, after kicking off with a couple tracks that include everything from pitter-patter drum machine programming bumping up against acoustic guitars and buzzing analogue synths and horns to southwestern-styled ho-downs, the group sets upon their first remake. Massive Attack's "Teardrop" might not have been such an odd choice a couple years ago, but given how many times it's been used both in film (and now as the theme for a rather popular television series), the slightly ramshackle cover version doesn't feel quite as interesting as it should. That said, the group does an amazing version of Radiohead's "Amnesiac / Morning Bell," where stripped-down slide guitars, banjos, chimes, and vibraphones evoke a new fragile spirit in the track that pulls something new out of the aching melodies.
The original songs on the album veer back and forth between crammed-with-instrumentation to stripped-down, and the group is actually at their best during the latter occasions, where they can breath a little better. The country-tinged "Now Always My Best Friend" is a perfect example, with slightly-rough acoustic guitar backed up with more slide guitar and some upright bass plucks that provide just the perfect amount of background wobble and wispiness. Heck, you know this isn't a typical jam band when a track like the aptly-titled "Chris Walla: Duet For Moog And Hurdy Gurdy In G Major-Ish" slams together modulated futuro-weirdness with the wheezy archaic instrument. I've jammed around a lot, and while it may have gotten this wild, it's never come together in quite the peculiar and entertaining ways that the Flash Hawk Parlour Ensemble have put together here. It's not for everyone, but if you put this on next time you're sitting on your stoop, you may very well wonder if your julep has been spiked with something.