Thursday, August 17, 2006

THE HOWLING HEX - All Night Fox; You Can't Beat Tomorrow CDs (both Drag City)
These two CDs ably demonstrate who the real talent behind Royal Trux was. Line 'em up next to that horrendous Jennifer Herrema-helmed RTX disc of last year and you'll get the answer. I heard Neil Hagerty's debut solo album about 5 years back when I was working in music retail and thought it was OK, though its frequent spins in the store in question were c/o a co-worker, not me. Sounded like some sort of slightly half-baked bubblegum prog and I paid it no mind. I may have to go for a revisit soon.

A friend played me You Can't Beat Tomorrow when we were both slightly intoxicated at his place a few weeks back, preparing to hit the town for a major night of liver destruction. This friend in question is officially the Biggest Neil Michael Hagerty Fan In Melbourne. He even read Hagerty's book, fer chrissakes. When he placed the CD in the stereo and excitedly explained to me how Hagerty was a 21st-century equivalent of Skip Spence or Roky Erickson and his latest work was a modern-day slab of pure genius, I greeted his comments w/ great skepticism. After all, coming from Hagerty's Biggest Fan, such words could mean diddly squat. Two drinks and half a dozen songs in, I was convinced. Not of genius, but certainly of something very good indeed.

Both of these albums come from the year 2005. That's what it says on the back cover. I can't be bothered right now in researching the dates any further. The discography of Hagerty and the band known as The Howling Hex is too convoluted to investigate (given there being a series of obscure, LP-only releases as well). There is also a "solo" album from Hagerty from 2003 entitled Neil Michael Hagerty and the Howling Hex, though according to the All Music Guide, that's really a solo album. D' ya care? Thought not. However, that album, which I now also possess, is also well worth gathering and features a rather different set-up and sound to the latter two. W/ an extended band line-up comprising of organs, viola, saxophone and melodica, it possesses a more expansive array of audio delights. 21 songs and over 70 minutes of music, it's a fairly goddamn staggering piece of work, and what'll hit home more than anything else is what a hell of a songwriter Hagerty is. With an awesomely backwoods, basement vibe, there is a strong scent of Roky, Skip and Jandek in the ear, though unlike a zillion other spuds copping a "loner-psych" box-tick on their CV, Hagerty's songs drill themselves in your head to the point where the only logical move to make when all is finished is to hit repeat.

The two more recent HH efforts sport a slightly different sound. Stripped back and minimalist in sound (despite the long list of musicians who apparently play on them), songs concentrate on a kind of repetitive psychedelic blues caught somewhere between the jukejoint mantra rhythms of Junior Kimbrough (and if you've never checked out his Fat Possum discs of yore then get on the fuggin' case!), the acid-funk licks of Eddie Hazel and the jerkiness of prime Beefheart. Throw in a little late '60s West Coast psych a la Jefferson Airplane/Quicksilver/Moby Grape and you're getting warmer. Most of all, they sure don't sound much like Royal Trux, or at least anything they did after Cats & Dogs. Hagerty has found a sound and I dig it a lot. In fact, I'm going to go out on a another rash limb and state these as some of the most instantly impressive pieces of American underground rock I've stumbled across in the last half decade. I might wait another 10-20 years before I start throwing the "genius" tag around, though for now I can say this: if you, like me, are looking for a 21st-century equivalent of Roky or Skip or Great American Music in the tradition of Meat Puppets ca. their first 3 classics or Half Japanese in their prime Charmed Life/Music To Strip By/The Band That Would Be King period, The Howling Hex are gonna blow your goddamn head off. New album out next month, too.


1) DON CHERRY - Organic Music Society CD-R
Thank the heavens for the internet. A collector/dealer pal told me I would not find this out-of-print gem from 1973 for less than (AU)$200. I informed a friend last weekend of my predicament: where does one find Don Cherry's lost psych-jazz-ethno 2-LP Swedish gem and not part a small fortune for its wares? Go straight to Soulseek, he said. I'm a techno-tard, so my friend did the deed and gave me the CD-R the next day. You need this.
2) SOFT BOYS - Can Of Bees CD
Thank the heavens for the 'net once again! Must've been a slow week for Soft Boys fans worldwide. Got this out-of-print slice of beauty for a ha'penny on eBay.
3) JEFFERSON AIRPLANE - After Bathing At Baxter's LP
There's no "We Built This City (On Rock'n'Roll)", but this "uncommercial" (as the liner notes say) album from '68 is a good thing nonetheless. All those Amon Duul 2 comparisons are only now beginning to make sense.
4) BOB MOULD - Workbook CD
Am I the only person on earth who still thinks this to be an unsung masterpiece? Bob's solo debut from 1988, stripped back and acoustic. Song for song, it's unbeatable. Really. This is probably considered a bogus listen by the hipster cognoscenti at this stage in the game, so...
5) NURSE WITH WOUND - Who Can I Turn To Stereo CD
One of those mid-'90s NWW platters which horrified the noise-hardcore, since it possessed a little-known trick called "rhythm". Phewy to the purists; this is one of Stapleton's best in a 25+-year career, and fits nicely amongst an evening of blissing out to Can, Neu!, Amon Duul 2, etc.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I know you wrote it ages ago, but all the same: great post! Neil Hagerty continues to baffle and amaze.