For a guy who had to teach his bad-kid bandmates all the parts of Exile on Main Street--simply because he was the only person who knew them--for Pussy Galore's infamous gang-bang of the Stones' classic, and later as one-half of the omnipresent phoenix-rising-out-of-the-ashes-of-rock-history that was the inscrutable Royal Trux, Neil Hagerty is one of indie rock and roll's last genuine gamblers. Trux's evil-twin genius lay in his and band/life partner Jennifer Herrema's willingness to give anything a go as long as it chased whatever elusive demon they were under the influence of. What they concocted together was at times as sinisterly abrasive as Twin Infinitives or as eerily intoxicating as Cats and Dogs, and they were, for almost a decade, one of the most consistently bewildering outfits in indieland. A good portion of Trux's wicked kick lay in the contrasting vocals between the two--her sexy sneer to his plaintive lugubriousness--but they always seemed to hit some nail directly on its head, even if it was a spike that had been mangled and bent a bit before that proper stroke was scored.
True to form, and miraculously something different altogether, Haggerty's Drag City solo debut, Neil Michael Hagerty, is exactly the curveball you'd expect from this rock archeologist, and somehow surprising nonetheless. Written and played entirely by Hagerty alone, it veers from late-1960s psych paisleys to bring-the-hammer-down guitar excursions to enigmatic jazzbo Beatitude and even some quasi-country folk jams. Drum machines and organ compete like early-'80s Neil Young and the Grateful Dead, looking to wipe each other out of rock's collective consciousness. Beatles-esque melodies bleed into lengthy solos. And when Hagerty pairs a creepy viola part with a plastic kazoo in "The Menace," you stop trying to figure out what the hell is going on and simply sit back and give in to the aural schizophrenia, rather than fight off the inevitable bipolar episode.
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Just as noteworthy is Hagerty continuing the verbal eccentricity that he unveiled in his 1997 novel Victory Chimp--witness say-what? titles like "Chicken, You Can Roost on the Moon," "Kali, the Carpenter," "Whiplash in Park" and "Tender Metal." And while Neil Michael Hagerty may be the sort of strange bird that even Trux diehards have a hard time wrapping their warped brains around, it's a refreshingly idiosyncratic offering in these all-too-predictable times. But as with the mighty Trux, how--and if--it can be pulled off live is anyone's guess.