[23 January 2012]
The Howling Hex like to play with guitars, mashing together and overlaying different patterns of notes that can appear at times only tangentially related. Their new album, Wilson Semiconductors, contains little percussion and only occasional vocals. The singing – more of a place holder between guitar bouts than anything else—is often limited to repetition of simple phrases. At four songs and around 33 minutes, the album doesn’t have much structure, with songs starting and ending after random durations, and without the drums, it’s low on beat. Wilson Semiconductors goes as far as the loose unpredictability of the guitars takes it.
The first of the four songs is “Reception”, which begins with a tuneful introduction – one steady rhythm guitar and a pealing melody played on top. That rhythm guitar keeps playing throughout the entire song, just hitting a similar note over and over, and sometimes another guitar squalls or chimes as it rises and falls. The band sings a lot on this song – “Reception, it can take a long time, take a long time” – and now and then there are harmonies. It’s got a sprawling, slack feel. You’re not really sure what’s going on, and the band may not be either. The constant rhythm guitar never deviates from its one pattern, it’s the only form of guidance. Guitar solos pop up without warning and slide back into the chaos.
The rest of the album feels similar, though it involves less singing. Usually one guitar figure holds a monotonous narrative thread while all sorts of mayhem ensues on top of it – but always at a leisurely pace. The guitars can be noisy and fierce, but there is no sense of urgency: It’s a strangely chilled sound explosion. “Play This When You Feel Low” has a rhythm almost like that of a waltz, with tense fingerpicking and fuzzy, high drones. After awhile, vocals return in the form of high harmonies. “Game Of Dice” contains more guitar noodling over a single repeated set of notes and simple bass work. At one point, the lead guitar is almost funky, then it’s climbing over and over again, then it’s in the background as the group sings nonsense like, “I’m in a white horse/ Rolling up the hill/ All the white horses/ Here, here, they come now”.
The Howling Hex are an irregular, long-winded band. Good luck predicting where the guitars go next – that imaginary white horse just keeps on rolling. Roll with it, or don’t.