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The Howling Hex - Nightclub Version of the Eternal

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Artist: The Howling Hex

Album: Nightclub Version of the Eternal

Label: Drag City

Review date: Sep. 24, 2006

On his ninth solo outing in a half decade, Neil Michael Hagerty cranks out a middling collection of strung-out grooves. Long, nodding dialogues between guitar and drums, lock into repeated cadences, punctuated by mantras of roundabout lyrical fragments. There's a tambourine line running throughout Nightclub Version of the Eternal, half-heartedly suggesting, but not quite accomplishing a hedonist's vibe.

Consider the opener, "Hammer and Bluebird," clearly the album's highlight. It starts well enough, a staccato shuffle of hand-slapped drums and off-beat tambourine. Electric guitars slash through anarchically. A conversation ensues between Hagerty's muted, bass-like baritone guitar and Michael Saenz's more abrasive electric. The vocals – Hagerty and drummer Lyn Madison – dodge in and out, something about a black night, a radio and a neighborhood (though you're obviously not meant to focus on the lyrics because they make no sense at all). Two solos break up the flow, the first a meandering train of anti-melody, clearly Hagerty, the second a harsher, more tangled sound of conventional electric guitar. The whole thing goes on for seven and a half minutes, the rhythmic foundation static and stagnant, with only the guitars allowed to vary. At half the length, the cut would be low-slung, blues-rock triumph; as it is, "Hammer and Bluebird" simply outstays its welcome.

The rest of the album is similarly frustrating. "This Planet Sweet"'s smoldering dual guitar interplay segues triumphantly into a Brian Jones-ish shuffle, but sheer repetition deadens the thrill. "Six Pack Days" has, arguably, the most compelling guitar work, but it very nearly falls apart, the drums half a beat behind the guitars and vocals. And "Out, Out, Out," with its PiL-ish cadence (it sounds just like "Religion II") and incendiary solos, almost turns the whole experience around. Still even this relatively short cut – it's the radio pop song at 6:35 – gets lost in the woods.

Cuts that go on and on eventually have to transcend themselves, turning repetition into something hypnotic and mysterious and celebratory. These cuts never quite make the jump. Next time, a little more nightclub, a little less eternal please.

By Jennifer Kelly

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