If this is The Howling Hex’s best, I’m not interested in hearing the rest. The Best of Howling Hex is the eleventh album from the band founded by Neil Michael Hagerty. The title is a complete misnomer given that it contains all new music and frankly, I hope it’s not the best this band has come up with. Maybe I’m just cranky because I spent the last 24 minutes of my life (that I can never get back, by the way) listening to “Trashcan Bahamas,” the already ten-minute-long song with five minutes of silence before a nine-minute-long bonus track/mess of sound tied together with a guitar in polka-time popping up over and over again.
My main problem with this album is that it was repetitive. Aside from part of “Trashcan Bahamas,” the entire album is in either a waltz or a polka time signature, so the bass line has an oom-pah-pah or buh-buh sound (the latter I described in my notes as “sounds like a cartoon jug band.”) I found it difficult to take the songs seriously once I was picturing someone blowing into a growler jug to polka time. It wouldn’t be so bad if every single song didn’t have almost identical bass lines. Some of the songs started out with promise like they would break into something new, but no, a few seconds in they all turned into 3/4 or 2/4 time. Each song has its own little details (like some organ-like sounds on “The General Prologue,”) but they’re such little details that all I can hear is that bass line. Even the lyrics, at least the ones I can understand, are repetitive. “Street Craps” ends with Hagerty repeating “seems like Protestant God/ actually is machine” over and over and over again. At least I think that’s what he’s half-saying, half-singing. There were more repeated lyrics a couple of times in “Trashcan Bahamas.”
I had started to wonder whether I had my bass settings way too high because the ultra-repetitive bass lines were covering up Hagerty’s nearly-spoken vocals and distorted guitar riffs, but no, that is how the album is mixed. He’s clearly skilled on guitar, I just wish his guitar work was easier to hear and not covered up by distortion and the loud bass. Why hide the best part of the album? “Highlights” has some audible vocals, but they’re the backing vocals. They’re louder and clearer than the far-away sounding lead vocals.
The Howling Hex clearly has talent, which is why I can’t believe that this could be considered the “best of.” I need more variation, I want to be able to hear the guitar riffs and vocals (the things that should be making these songs stand out from each other) over the repetitive bass line. If you do choose to listen to this album, save yourself from the bonus track. I promised myself that I would never sit through that cacophony again after the first time, even if it were for the sake of this review. I’m not sure if Hex’s aim was to trigger a headache or create suspense and discomfort with that track. If it was the latter, it kind of worked. I nearly screamed out loud when the polka-time guitar reappeared after some alien-like noises (it would have been a scream of frustration.) By the time the track ended and the next song on my playlist started up, I felt like I’d just escaped a house of horrors or woken up from a bad dream. If that’s what they were going for, it was brilliant. If not, it was the mess I thought it was. Just don’t do it.
MP3: The Howling Hex “Primetime Clown”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl