The Howling Hex

You Can't Beat Tomorrow

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Never one to stick with the same sound or approach for long, Neil Michael Hagerty follows up the Howling Hex's CD debut, All-Night Fox, with You Can't Beat Tomorrow, a CD/DVD set that trades the loopy, swampy rock of Fox for a trippy, countrified sound. To be sure, dubby, rambling interludes like "Sick and Old 1" and "Sick and Old 2" are pure Hagerty and could fit on almost any album he's released, and "Apache Energy Plan"'s chugging pop is a direct descendant of his later solo albums, but overall, You Can't Beat Tomorrow feels like a hazy, slow-motion jamboree. The involvement of alt-country ensemble the Theater Fire has a lot to do with this; their brass adds a woozy warmth to "S.C. Sorrow" and "Meet Me at the Dance," while the rag-tag percussion and flurries of harmonicas, accordions, and banjos they contribute on "Diamond Tank" end up making the song sound more avant than down-home. The album's blurred, experimental feel is only magnified on the DVD portion of You Can't Beat Tomorrow: Conceived as a half-hour pilot for a Howling Hex variety show, it throws together live performances, animation, and spoken word pieces together in a way that suggests a video mosaic instead of Laugh-In or Hee Haw. The performances of song such as "Cobra Heart," "S.C. Coward," and "No Numbers" are punctuated by and embellished with bits, such as the serial about a monkey who escapes his role as the savior by running a bar with a skeleton, that make for fascinating -- if a touch disorienting -- watching and listening. The same can be said for You Can't Beat Tomorrow as a whole: It's an often-fractured experience, but its laid-back, appealing weirdness and sense of fun make it a grower.

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