The Howling Hex
Niteclub Version of the Eternal
There is something in the human mind that is drawn to the insolvable. Like optical illusions, we will gaze deep into that until we have rectified how it's done. Like how if someone has one off those insufferable office toy gizmos that are like two interlocked rings you are supposed to somehow un-interlock. I will grunt and swear and wear the polish off one of those things trying to get it apart. Maybe it goes back to the essentially digital way we see, our eyes dart all over collecting patches of data, quilting it together in the black box in our Jell-O brains to form pornography, or perhaps televised hockey. And maybe "crazy" people are the ones that lack this quilting apparatus, that their horrific visions are the real disjointed disparate chunks that life is before we sanitize it with conditioning. I actually have some odd vision disorder where my eyes do not work in unison, like they flicker from one to the other, lacking a real experience of perception. It's why I can't do Magic Eye puzzles, and probably goes a long way to explain my poor investment strategies.
It also, I believe, adds a biological element to my penchant for fractured things, for things that are more raw ingredient than cooked delicacy, and The Howling Hex has time and again provided a jagged loofah to my back sore form bearing the homogeneity and consistency of the world around me. Neil Michael Hagerty (of Royal Trux and Pussy galore fame) keep sharpening their plow but still, thankfully never plow a straight row with it. Niteclub Vision of the Eternal bears remarkable similarity in cover style and ram-shackle-ness to The Fall's 1984 masterwork Hex Enduction Hour, but instead of providing a cold, thicket nest for Mark E. Smith's laser-guided spleen, Niteclub creates a spider web, witches' cradle of looping beats and highlife guitar ratchets, lifting him aloft like a minor four-armed deity.
The six songs follow a set pattern (much like they did on All-Night Fox a few years ago) - all just over 7 minutes, laden with a relentlessly looping tambourine rat tat tat and an almost unheard occasion bass line, Neil's chipmunk-like chants of the lyrics and his guitar. His guitar is both the snake charmer and the cobra here, looping and darting with poisoned fangs and glossy scales. "Hammer and Bluebird" starts the cycle with an almost African beat and a slow that appears to have been coaxed out of the guitar with tweezers and sweat. When I first heard it, I immediately dragged out the old trusty The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and while I think the comparisons will be lost on culture separatists, there is a common thread between the mbaqanga stomp of that heralded record of the 80's and Hagerty's drug-tinged nerve blues. This album all but induces a trance in me.
The above really applies to each song on the record, but here are some of the slight distinguishing characteristics. "Lips Begin to Move" has a hint of the pop groove that made 2005's You Can't Beat Tomorrow such a rarified pleasure, but it is distracted by the mosquitoes and gnats that plague Hagerty's hazy cosmos. "This Planet Sweet" may be the most accessible to the non-acolyte, almost having a straight hard rock riff form its vertebrae. "How Many Steps Now" is probably the gets close to actually aping the African beats that undoubtedly inform his record, and "Good Things Are Easy" - a notion I believe to be a thesis statement in The Howling Hex plan for enlightenment - rocks like ones of those spell-binding abstract Fela expanses. "Six Pack Days" cuts back to the swampy stoner stomp that was in Royal Trux once you brushed away the thick smoke. All of this though feels like it has been run through a series of ever shrinking pipes until what started as a swampy trickle became a piercing beam of scalding steam. The Howling Hex is a singular pleasure, and one that usually drives mad those that require a margarine glaze over everything. But if you are like me, and dig the disparate, the jagged, the possibly unfinished for its own sake and fights the impulse our Original Sin commands, serpent coaxing us to fill in the blanks with the worst idea we have, this chigger of a record will scratch that world of itches like nothing else.
(Alex V. Cook's book of rocknroll observations, 'Darkness, Racket and Twang' is available now from the SideCartel)
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com