The Howling Hex

Nightclub Version of the Eternal

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As lame as it is to base the criticism of an album on its title, it's too bad that this, the second Howling Hex album released within 12 months (third, if you count the EP collection 1-2-3), is called Nightclub Version of the Eternal, since its jammy songs seem to go on forever. Though it was recorded over two weeks, it feels like one long, stream-of-consciousness take; while this approach has worked in a big way for Neil Hagerty before on his Royal Trux work and various solo incarnations, it just doesn't here. Consisting of seven songs, with the shortest over six and a half minutes long, Nightclub Version of the Eternal is built from repetitive riffs and rhythms that don't change much within each song, much less from track to track. The opener, "Hammer and Bluebird," sounds like something off a latter-day Trux album, minus a good deal of zaniness and inflated to at least twice the length it needed to be. The rest of the album follows suit, with only a few changes here and there: "This Planet Sweet" has one of the more distinctive chord progressions on the album, while "Good Things Are Easy" coasts along as a rambling boogie. The band is stripped down to a trio, with hand percussion instead of a full drum kit and Hagerty on baritone guitar instead of bass, all of which intensifies the relentless, almost tribal drone of these songs and Hagerty and Lyn Madison's twinned vocals. Hagerty's guitars are as freewheeling as ever, though, particularly on "Lips Begin to Move" and "Six Pack Days," where the contrast of his playing and the basic percussion works particularly well. Even though the music is some of the least overtly challenging of Hagerty's career, the album's very simplicity and sameness makes it hard to get into; it's not as catchy as his subversively hooky moments, but it's not all that experimental, either. Nightclub Version of the Eternal isn't exactly bad, but it is frustrating -- with a little more variety and/or pruning, it could've been on a level with All-Night Fox or You Can't Beat Tomorrow. Some Hagerty fans might enjoy this free-form excursion, but too often it feels like the weakest Howling Hex album yet.

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