Califone, Neil Michael Hagerty

After the fine-lined deluge of technically astute, occasionally bloodless post-rock that commanded the Chicago-based underground-rock scene in the late 1990s, I was beginning to wonder when that city would recultivate its devotion to the shamblingly polluted music that initially brought it attention, back when a young Drag City Records was issuing the first murmurs by California slacker shamans Pavement and deranged bloozehounds Royal Trux. For a while it seemed Thrill Jockey's stable of studio-rat workaholics (basically Tortoise and everyone under its shell) might usurp the fine Drag City tradition of haphazard brilliance--that the barbarians might be locked behind their own gate, destined to a purgatory of anemic Eagles choruses and malformed Black Crowes riffs.

Hearing the fine new albums by former Trux driver Neil Michael Hagerty and the post-Red Red Meat outfit Califone, I realize that the madmen didn't really retreat; they just needed time to properly ferment. After all, Hagerty and his soul sister (or wife or girlfriend or something) Jennifer Herrema found themselves exiled more than a few times on their way to Main Street, landing in an ill-advised relationship with Virgin Records that took three post-op Drag City discs to shake off. Hagerty's first solo outing, last year's self-titled effort, didn't really convince me the hangover had cleared, sounding more like a crude mock-up of the Trux's trash-art aesthetic than an elaboration on it--too much booze, not enough wooze.

But Neil Hagerty Plays That Good Old Rock and Roll revives the wobbly balance between form and fuck-all that the seminal Chicago school of the early '90s so trenchantly defined: On "Sayonara" a lovely string section glides over an unkempt rhythm-guitar chime and a battery of cymbal splashes, while Hagerty sings crap poetry in his best falsetto before diving headfirst into a blistering fuzz solo.

Meanwhile, Califone is out in the Windy City wilds on Roomsound, its first full-length after a pair of bewitching EPs, fiddling with roots rock until it resembles a backwoods answer to Radiohead's big-city bewilderment: Let the lunar-eclipse acoustics of "Porno Starlet Vs. Rodeo Clown" wash over you tonight, and wonder if you don't feel back in good, strangely comforting hands. --M.W.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mikael Wood