Most of the CDs I reviewed for Monkeybiz.ca I thoroughly enjoyed. The Wilson Semiconductors EP by The Howling Hex was not one of them.
Released the same day as my Gringo Star critique, it’s one of the more amusing assessments I’ve put together. The original MonkeyBiz posting, which included the EP’s cover, had some spacing issues which have now been corrected on my site. Other than that, this is exactly what I wrote a year ago. I hope you enjoy it.
THE HOWLING HEX: WILSON SEMICONDUCTORS: An album review
Posted on January 05 2012 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl
It’s always a risk to name any of your songs Play This When You Feel Low. Why? Because unless it’s the most cheerful, uplifting track you’ve heard in years, the listener is in for a crushing disappointment.
It just so happens that The Howling Hex has a song with that exact title on their latest EP, Wilson Semiconductors. No matter how depressed you are, no matter how bleak your worldview is, this track will make you feel worse.
Often sounding like a demented, tuneless merry-go-round, the track is nothing more than nearly eight minutes of psychedelic guitar noodling garnished with the occasional bit of whiny, nasally vocalizing. There are no drums whatsoever.
The few lines that are clearly heard in this annoying arrangement – “I went to jail for your bitch-ass”, “silence at the end of a landline” – are rather beside the point. After two listens, I don’t care enough to know what the song is about.
Even more self-indulgent and horrid is the instrumental Brunette Roulette (great title, though). Drifting in and out of pitch, imagine three or four different guitar players (there’s really only one) playing whatever the hell they want at the same time with zero emphasis on harmony.
Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, this one really tests your patience and endurance. It just goes on and on and on like a long-winded open audition at amateur night. Simply put, it’s an epic waste of time.
Shockingly, bookending these two disasters is some glimmer of hope. Despite being ten minutes long, A Game Of Dice is surprisingly entertaining. Well, at least, it starts out that way.
After a mercifully brief off-time opening, the song comes alive at the five-second mark as frontman Neil Michael Hagerty spends the next three minutes demonstrating several unique, occasionally experimental guitar licks against a persistent bass-tone backbeat. (Again, no drums.)
Then he starts to sing about the number of Joe Smiths there are in the phone book in a falsetto that makes much of the rest of what he’s trying to say incoherent.
His rambling lyrics are often hard to discern except the part about passing the time on a stakeout by partaking in the act of whittling.
After four listens, I’m still not sure what’s going on here, although I suspect it’s about someone stalking an ex.
By the five and a half minute mark, A Game Of Dice completely unravels as the dreaded self-indulgence that mars so much of this record hijacks the next two minutes.
Hagerty’s guitar work at this point, reminiscent of the solo on Ween’s Voodoo Lady, sounds like he’s making a smoothie with a power tool.
Then, it’s back to one last falsetto section as he spends a minute singing about “white hearses”. One wonders if this wildly uneven track would’ve worked better as a much shorter instrumental.
Reception, the EP’s opener, is the only song worth repeat listens. Despite some irritating guitar theatrics near the end, the lively, bass-tone heavy arrangement features Hagerty’s best vocals.
Sounding a bit like Gaz Coombes of Supergrass, he sings about the long hard slog bands have to struggle through before possibly finding that elusive acceptance from an audience (“reception/it can take a long time”).
Hagerty’s been kicking around the music business since the late ‘80s when he fronted Royal Trux (and played guitar for Pussy Galore and Weird War). When Trux broke up in 2001, he went solo for a bit before forming The Hex.
After 25 years as an active indie musician, Wilson Semiconductors won’t gain him any new fans.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 5, 2013