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Turn the Corners

NEIL MICHAEL HAGERTYNeil Michael Hagerty (Drag City)

Ah, American indie-rock icons and their post-band solo albums named after themselves. In one corner: ex--Pavement leader Stephen Malkmus, whose recent Stephen Malkmus finds him still spending more brainiac time on the Sunday crossword puzzle than on song lyrics, still proudly wearing the Slacker Prince tin crown he worked so little to earn in the ‘90s -- when things were simpler and irony still packed charm.

In the opposite corner we find Neil Hagerty, singer-guitarist of Royal Trux, a band whose image arc has rainbowed from detested junkie fuckups (late ’80s), to momentarily celebrated Glimmer Twins stand-ins (‘92-’93), to generally ignored ex-junkie professional obscurantists (‘94--present). (How ignored? News of their apparent breakup a couple of months ago wasn’t met with a collective sigh -- it wasn‘t met at all.) Where Pavement marked the pitch and did their laps, only occasionally making an obvious effort (the brilliant Brighten the Corners), the Neil Hagerty--Jennifer Herrema partnership changed parameters from album to remarkable album in three-siren pursuit of an ineffable, inscrutable something. Royal Trux went for it, and you had to respect their determination even if you didn’t always enjoy the work itself.

And so, while the Malkmus album sounds pretty much like every other record the Malk has ever done, the Hagerty album -- melodic, cryptic vocals + IDM electro-rhythmstextures + virtuoso rock-jazz fusion guitar -- sounds pretty much like nothing anyone else has ever done; its closest cousin may be Money Mark‘s ’98 Push the Button album, which had a similarly low-key yet adventurous, all-over-the-map feel. These are guys who seem to bleed exhale ooze Music, who -- unfettered by the ego needs of collaborators -- make committed, focused multi-instrumental flights that range from modest sorties to sustained campaigns. The highlights on the near-zero-filler Neil Michael Hagerty start when you zap the “play” button: the spacy soul-funk of the organ-drenched “Know That” and “Chicken, You Can Roost on the Moon”; the seriously gorgeous Lennonesque falsetto between massive guitar flows on “Kali, the Carpenter” and “Tender Metal”; a volcanic 100-second guitar gusher two minutes into the gentle “Whiplash in Park”; the two tons of dazzling Hendrix stretched neckwork that sees “I Found a Stranger” to the exit door; the bizarro nu-Appalachia folk of “Repeat the Sound of Joy” and “The Menace”; etc.

Fantastic, fascinating and, yes, accessible. The Herrema-Hagerty alleycaterwauling -- a Royal Truxmark -- may be completely absent on NMH, but the outfit‘s artistic restlessness persists . . . which should be an inspiration to those content to run in place.