The Howling Hex
The same friend that irritated me (and subsequently opened my mind) with his view on psychedelic music also was a proponent of a cultural concept of Retro-futurism , to which I was decidedly more warm. The idea was that the best way to celebrate the past was to embrace the past's concept of the future, which fortunately, is a very easy thing to do. Look at the outward glance from the 60's - Jetson bubble cars, impossible domed buildings set high upon thin pillars, sleek Bauhaus furniture, revealing form fitting uniform/outfits - a plastic and chrome world of muzak-ed by cool finger-snapping stripper-jazz and hot rock combos. The fantasy of Barbarella is much easier to wrap ones self-image around than say, Subway sandwich places and minivans. My devotion did culminate and terminate with me staggering home substance-addled from a retro-future party of his, costumed as "The Housewife of the Future When the Gender Roles Switch" (in a mu-mu, patterened tights, curlers, full beard and brandishing a gigantic toy space rifle) but it was fun cerebral ride while it lasted.
The modern neo-garage thing is an example of this retrofuturism, a genre helped onto the map by the NYC fuzz and junk unit Pussy Galore, fronted by rogue blues poster-boy Jon Spencer and given its spiky spininess by guitarist Neil Hagerty, perfoming such lab experiments as covering (reportedly at gunpoint) the entire Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street album. Once PG petered out into the more lucrative tangents of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Boss Hogg and Hagerty's dope rock parade Royal Trux, the garage rock revolution was in full swing. The White Stripes were starting to happen; the Pulp Fiction soundtrack put Dick Dale back into the public mind. As with all waves, it eventually crashed, and now the garage is connected directly to the marketing board room, and the tribal hipsterness that once gave vision to the Hip New Frontier is selling iPods and Carnival cruises.
Never fear, intrepid adventurers. Neil Hagerty has gone through a number of musical and personality shifts post-Trux to head the weird lizard that is The Howling Hex. Here is a refactoring of the punk soul of fellow travelers Ian Svenonious (Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up) and Spencer, except instead of working out his algorithm through the equation of metaphor, The Howling Hex mechanizes the good-time-oldies into an angular intrepid beast to which nothing else can compete for your attention. The grooves on the various songs operated as churning gear configurations, reminding one that the greatest minimalist composer is, in fact, not Philip Glass, but James Brown. The punch of tight funk and soul is navigated by Hagerty's insistent squeaky voice somewhere in the middle of the mix, create a number of songs that do the thing that the avant gard does best: start with something uncomfortable or grating, and keep at it until you are reveling in it. It bears more than the word "hex" in common with the Fall's 1984 thesis statement Hex Enduction Hour in that it is willing to hammer through tradition to kill the father that bore it. Here though, instead of using the Fall's icepick to do the deed, the patriarch is pecked to death by funky-funky little birds.
It opens with the blunt warning "Now, We're Gonna Sing", with a driving 4/4 beat and belt-driven sharp and angular bluesy riff that sets the tone for the track and the album. Neil' s voice ranges from an echoed almost-Ween-like chipmunk-warble to a nasty laser boring through the song. The block party groove of "Pair Back Up Mass With" hits you like a long forgotten Schoolhouse Rock ditty, some joyous buried nugget that suddenly bursts forth. The celebratory wild territory is further examined by what can only be described as the post-Supremes tambourine and snare pace of "Cast Aside the Fate" and exits with the same drive with whick it enters on "Soft Enfolding Spreads," its Beefheart-scrappy groove sucking you in by the time the album's short 35 minutes are over. I don't mean to portray this record as a Hall of Presidents, simply animating its inspirations, its just that its difficult, without reference, to convey how All-Night Fox turns rhythm and blues into a delightfully exciting new thing, that in its own weird way, rocks.
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
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