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Earth Junk

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Album Review

It's tempting, but not entirely true, to say that when Royal Trux split, Jennifer Herrema got most of the band's sludgy rock and Neil Hagerty got most of its experimental tendencies. After all, Herrema's underground hair metal with RTX is hardly conventional, and the Neil Michael Hagerty and Howling Hex albums have plenty of fiery guitars. However, on Earth Junk the Howling Hex (this time a trio including vocalist Eleanor Whitmore and keyboardist Sweney Tidball) takes a sharp turn away from the slightly skewed blues-rock of XI and toward Hagerty's outer fringes, emphasizing just how disjointed and disorienting that side of his music can be. Earth Junk was recorded in Austin, and the album is informed by the city's roots rock legacy as well as its acid-tinged experiments: most of these songs are based in time-tested blues and country progressions and concentrate on simple instrumentation (voice, guitars and keyboards), but they're far from straightforward — in fact, the almost total lack of percussion throughout emphasizes just how rambling this album is, particularly on the sprawling "Sundays Are Ruined Again" and "Contraband & Betrayal." This mellow-yet-freewheeling vibe is challenging without being abrasive, and though Earth Junk doesn't sound exactly like any of the Howling Hex's previous work, it's distinctly Hagerty, its organic warmth nodding to You Can't Beat Tomorrow and its left-field jams recalling Nightclub Version of the Eternal. The tracks where Whitmore sings are among the standouts, with her unabashedly sweet vocals making the songs more grounded, or more hallucinatory, as needed. The Fiery Furnaces-esque "Faithful Sister" showcases her ability to bring Hagerty's lyrical flights of fancy back down to earth, and she provides a foil to his sharp sneer on duets like "No Good Reason" and "The Arrows." Earth Junk closes with some of its wildest tracks, as if to underscore the album's dedication to experimentation: "Blood & Dust" is equally fascinating and confusing, its fragmented vignette suggesting someone reading a torn-up short story while guitars and keyboards freak out in the background; meanwhile, "Coffin Up Cash"'s tumbling collage of delicate acoustic guitars, guttural electronics, and keyboards could be a (much cleaner) descendant of Trux's Twin Infinitives. Hagerty remains so mercurial that it's impossible to predict where he'll be in his creative orbit when he steps into a studio, but this trip to his weird terrain should please — or at least intrigue — his longtime fans.

Biography

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The always prolific Neil Michael Hagerty took the name of his group the Howling Hex from his 2003 solo album Neil Michael Hagerty & the Howling Hex. The band -- which featured Hagerty and a cast of mostly anonymous supporting musicians -- debuted later that year with Introducing the Howling Hex, a vinyl-only release limited to 500 copies. The album's rough, swampy sound recalled Royal Trux excursions like Twin Infinitives and Hand of Glory. Released in 2004, The Return of the Third Tower and Section...
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Earth Junk, The Howling Hex
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