13 October 2008

The Howling Hex – Earth Junk


(2008, Drag City)

There is no foundation, and that is what is so discomfiting about Earth Junk. Opener 'Big Chief Big Wheel' lacks that solid bass line, the catchy riff, the vocal hook. The melodies whose constituent notes seem to bear little relation to each other seem to spiral in and out like bees emerging from a half-full Carlsberg can on a balmy summer day.

After brief spoken introduction, 'Sundays are Ruined Again' resides in the instrumental domain, a ragged tomcat duet between two wily guitar lines over moon-walking synthesiser backing.

'Annie Get Redzy', far from being just a fantastic title, continues this theme of restless guitars that interplay like piss lines etched in snow by drunken Wisconsin frat boys. This isn't Fugazi, but works just as well, much like Tom Waits's hobo-orchestral pieces match Leonard Cohen’s stately grandeur.

Guitar lines wind round yer synapses like the freakiest worms in town; the golden femme backing vocal should be surplus to requirements but downs that tequila in one. Those honey tones take the lead in 'Faithful Sister'. Technically sounder, though less charismatic, than Jennifer: perhaps that anodyne smoothness is the point. It fits the late 60s way-out aesthetic for sure.

But this is no hackneyed yearning for flowers in hair and Love albums. It's the attitude of Perrey and Kingsley married to that confident flow of early Beefheart. These ostensibly disparate sounds work to a degree that would make Gestalt blanch.

Thick key tones provide the base, electric piano adding detail (hey, it's like Bohren on crystal meth!), with antsy, irked, guitar lines weaving like those worms we mentioned earlier. It's a cycle. And that golden-voiced girl ties it all together, like the rug in a Michael Gira acid flashback.

The sound really changes on penultimate song 'Coffin Up Cash', a 'Hex take on pastoralectronica, bass pulse reminiscent of overlooked 2003 Manta Ray single 'Take a Look'. Neither quite Nick Drake nor Four Tet, it rolls along with an irresistible charm all its own.

Lacking the muscle and aggro of RTX, the Howling Hex is an altogether more sinewy customer, the spindly limbs of a crafty veteran of disorder flying off at all angles, with wisdom belying drunken mastery. One thing is for sure – 2008 is a great year to be a Royal Trux fan.

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