Neil Michael Hagerty has been a busy man since his former band Royal Trux finally gave up the ghost. Which is surprising really, seeing as Royal Trux always seemed to be immersed in the kind of drugged haze that you’d imagine would hamper most creativity. This obviously doesn’t apply to Hagerty who has managed to spew forth no less than nine albums since RT folded.
Six of those albums have been under the Howling Hex moniker, which is something of a back catalogue when you think about it. Still, being prolific does not necessarily go hand in hand with quality, so it is with some consternation we approach Howling Hex’s latest.
Fortunately Hagerty’s well has not yet run dry and what we find is a pleasingly short album (a grand total of 33 minutes) that is bereft of filler and full of tunes that will find you hankering after the kind of druggy haze that doesn’t hamper Hagerty but will take you out like a pensioner shot with an elephant tranquilizer.
Opening tune Big Chief Big Wheel bears an uncanny resemblance to the quirky pop of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah which is something of a nice surprise. Hegarty’s high pitched croak balances precariously on some mischievous circus keyboards and a guitar that sounds as if it’s being strangled.
“Basketball on the radio, rabbit in the moon, I’m almost sure of the fact that Sundays have been ruined” so begins the peculiar Sundays Are Ruined Again, a jam that is taut, nervy and ultimately exhilarating. Hegarty lets the instruments breathe uninterrupted by vocal interjections as they work their way through their patterns and motifs – it works perfectly.
There’s space aplenty in all of these songs regardless of whether or not Hegarty decides to add vocals. His amalgam of folk, blues and noise leaves plenty of room for the listener to fill in the gaps or to explore the corridors of the songs through repeated listens.
A glance at the back cover sees the track listing cut into two by Hegarty’s head, whether it’s coincidence or not, this is definitely an album of two halves. The first half finds The Howling Hex and its most sparse and spacey, once you get to No Good Reason (on what might be termed “the Junk side”) things start to change in tone.
The guitar lines take centre stage and cut across the keyboard lines like a dull bread knife. This is The Howling Hex at their most Beefheartian and obstreperous. The noise blues spacerock of Blood & Dust is the tune they will playing in the church at the end of the universe when the rapture comes to claim us – ugly and beautiful noise which is almost Godly in its simplicity.
Finishing the album with O Why Sports Coat The Howling Hex invoke the spirits of the early Rolling Stones with perhaps the only discernable difference being the distinct lack of the pop and hiss of worn out vinyl.
A short and not a little peculiar gem of an album then and one that proves that on his day Hegarty is full of great ideas.