It doesn’t take a particularly shrewd observer to figure out that XI is, in fact, The Howling Hex’s eleventh release, if you count the DVD release You Can’t Beat Tomorrow and the Neil Michael Hagerty solo disc that precedes the use of Howling Hex as his outfit’s official name. Keep in mind that it’s the band’s eleventh release since 2002, which includes three limited edition, and since out of print, vinyl releases, and you’ve got one prolific act, one whose members each have impressive backgrounds, from Hagerty’s work with Pussy Galore and Royal Trux to Robbie Lee and Andy McLeod’s work in Brightblack Morning Light.
With such a solid background, back catalogue that could put most of their indie peers to shame, and a well-established reputation as guitar wielding rock `n’ rollers, it should come as no surprise that XI is exactly that: guitar wielding rock `n’ roll. Really, XI is a sort of culmination of the band’s work up to this point, particularly Hagerty, who has gone from noise-wielding chaos wizard to a commanding songwriter, and one with a penchant for rock of the dirtiest and bluesiest variety. There’s plenty of that to find here, from the opening battle between wild, soloing guitar and saxophone on “Keychains.” Soon enough, the skronky mess turns into a solid and straightforward rock jam, an upbeat yet easy-going groove. “Live Wire” starts off with the declaration “this song is called `Live Wire'” before it shoots straight into a streamlined punk rock rave-up. Yet more often than not, The Howling Hex prefers to descend into a slower, slinkier blues strut, as on “Dr. Slaughter,” which is equal parts Beefheart to Some Girls.
An accessible, albeit sleazy blues-rock fest, XI is a far cry from the aural concussion of Twin Infinitives. Yet that was a different band, Hagerty was a much younger man, and when it comes right down to it, a no wave bar band just sounds a lot more fun. I wonder if they’ve written XII yet…
RTX – Western Terminator
Weird War – Illuminated by the Light
Can – Soon Over Babaluma
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.