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The Howling Hex - The Best of the Howling Hex

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Artist: The Howling Hex

Album: The Best of the Howling Hex

Label: Drag City

Review date: Feb. 13, 2013

The experiment is over, and so is the time of wandering in the New Mexico desert. Neil Michael Haggerty has moved to Denver, and he is playing with a drummer again after a couple albums without. But his time in the wilderness has left its mark. While web-searches suggest that the Howling Hex’s new stickman Eric Van Leuven is versatile enough to have played both stripped-clutch hardcore with the Anti-Scrunti Faction and fair weather pop with the Breezy Porticos, here his job is to take George Hurley’s approximation of Mexican polka on “Corona” and slow it down.

Haggerty hews to the fundamental M.O. he’s favored for over half a decade — pick your angle and stick to it. When you’ve exhausted it, move on and make another record. You want variation? On “Green Limousine,” Haggerty and Van Leuven pound a waltz into the ground while bassist Eric Allen (of The Apples In Stereo) boings bass tones against the unyielding walls of their beats, turning what sounds at first like a very single-minded rock song into an exploration of subtle rhythmic alteration. The pay-off is in the details. He has, however, thrown in one card that, if not exactly wild, makes the game more interesting. With the Hex configured as a classic power trio, there’s plenty of room for Hagerty get his yah-yah’s out on guitar. There’s no more hiding behind another guitarist, or relegating himself to bass, and his unbridled soloing is my favorite thing about The Best Of The Howling Hex. On “Trashcan Bahamas,” the record’s longest track, he combines the obsessiveness that’s motivated his recent limited-variable approach with calculated harshness. His tone is mean enough to strip burned-on garbage from the trashcan, his solo long enough to get the whole thing clean.

A briefer, echo-drenched lick at the start of “Street Craps” signals a rare hint of the playfulness that made those self-titled Hex LPs from 2003 and ’04 fun. But there’s more poker face than smiling here. Take the title; does he seriously think this is the best the Howling Hex can do? Can’t say I agree, since I liked it when he mixed it up more. Maybe he thinks, like so many people, that the latest thing he’s done is the best. But more likely, given that Haggerty has been at this for decades and that he has a well-documented appreciation for the absurd, it’s an unacknowledged joke. Better a poke in the ribs than a stick in the eye, right?

By Bill Meyer

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