The Howling Hex

The Best of the Howling Hex

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Ever one to challenge expectations, the Howling Hex album Neil Hagerty released in 2013 wasn't a retrospective; instead, The Best of the Howling Hex offered a parcel of new songs set to waltz and polka rhythms. It might not be as immediately confounding as the project's previous album Wilson Semiconductors, which stripped away the drums and all other members except for Hagerty, but as with that album, The Best of the Howling Hex becomes more inscrutable the more it flirts with seeming accessibility. For this album, the Howling Hex is back to a full-band lineup, allowing Hagerty's guitar more freedom than it had on Wilson Semiconductors, where it provided the backbone to the music as well as fleshing it out. Here, he delivers strutting, choppy strokes and freakout solos with equal (and sometimes bewildering) frequency. Still, The Best of the Howling Hex is dominated by Hagerty's rhythmic choices, with the loping waltz and bouncy polka beats adding a pointed surrealism to these songs' jaunty melodies. "The General Prologue" could very nearly pass for an arty, garage-rock take on polka-derived music such as tejano, and there are moments on "Street Craps" when the cadence Hagerty's vocals takes makes it sound like he's singing backwards. He uses the precise "one-two-three" of the waltz as a contrast to the chaos he describes on "Electrico Northern," while a more flowing take on the beat allows the band to rock nearly as hard as Hagerty's Royal Trux days (and also offers some breathing room from the choppy, dense songs on the rest of the album). After more sprawling works like You Can't Beat Tomorrow, it could seem that smaller-scale Howling Hex albums like this one and Wilson Semiconductors aren't as substantial, but after a few listens it becomes clear that Hagerty is just taking a more condensed approach to his music. This might not be the best Howling Hex album, but the way these songs approach pop and then glance off in cryptic tangents does exemplify what Hagerty does with this project, and why he's been a challenging, and intriguing, artist for so many years.

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