The Best Of The Howling Hex
, April 2nd, 2013 09:49
After 10 years and around the same amount of full length releases, Neil Michael Hagerty's The Howling Hex release their definitive statement – The Best Of The Howling Hex. And what a prospect. A decade of creating and perfecting "the new border sound" has resulted in much all-too-scarcely appreciated golden ear candy, like the relentless earworms 'Cobra Heart', 'Reception' and 'Now, We're Gonna Sing'. Songs to soundtrack your days in the subconscious, always colourful, fun and refreshing. But this is no 'Best Of' in the traditional sense, that's not the way The Howling Hex roll, as The Best Of The Howling Hex presents eight new cuts for your listening pleasure.
Like Captain Beefheart's Magic Band and Mark E Smith's The Fall, Hagerty has been the one constant throughout the Hex's career, and as with all Howling Hex releases, this album features a whole new lineup. Also, for the first time since the tumble down trap work on Nightclub Versions Of The Eternal (2006) and the steady bar jam band incarnation on Howling Hex XI in 2007, there are drums. The groups last full release Wilson Semiconductors consisted of four long intricate songs with two guitars and bass that took the mind's pleasure receivers on labyrinthine excursions down rarely heard musical pathways. Now based in Denver, having relocated from New Mexico, Hagerty, on guitar and vocals, is here joined by new recruits Eric Allen on bass and Eric Van Leuven and has processed the sound into shorter outsider rock nuggets.
While many of the tracks are based on the solid country-ish rhythm section,'Highlights' takes on an almost-surf bent with its "woo ooh" chorus, likewise closer 'Trashcan Bahamas,' takes on a tropical lilt, Hagerty playing guitar with willful and wild abandonment. Hagerty's playing as always is sublimely crooked, loose, but filling in all the right places, as he shreds repetitive stabs on 'Electrico Northern'. The track that previewed the album, 'Primetime Clown,' with its so-wrong-it's-right guitar hook came with a gonzo video featuring Kurt Cobain boxing George Dubya Bush. More of Hagerty's surreal video sketches can be seen on the DVD that came with 2005's You Can't Beat Tomorrow. Also well worth investigating from the ever-busy Howling Hex is the avant-garde four disc audio version of Hagerty's Victory Chimp sci-fi book.
As with the Magic Band and The Fall, fans of the "wonderful and frightening" world of The Howling Hex know that while there may be new recruits, at this stage you are either likely to be a believer or simply missing out on the diverse and experimental back catalogues, and any new album brings intrigue of what new direction will have been taken. Hagerty speaks the truth, whatever that may be, and whether you can work out his lyrics or not, drenched heavily as they are in reverb. While the songwriting has been collaborative in the past the focus of the current group's sound is unmistakably stamped by the obsessively detailed singular vision of its creator. Second guessing the next move, before anyone else has fully grasped the last.
A best of like no other, The Best Of The Howling Hex, reveals a true one of a kind, once in a lifetime, sorta group at their best. Sadly, Hagerty doesn't seem to do flying, so chances of seeing him and the Hex in action on this side of the pond have been obscure, so for many of us these always welcome audio dispatches present the closest we can get. Anyone in on a Kickstarter-style project to fund the ferry tickets? I mean, what the hex.