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Drag City

Royal Trux guitarist Neil Michael Hagerty’s eponymous solo debut is an idiosyncratic affair: low-key and low-fi but with guitar pyrotechnics galore. I hated Neil Michael Hagerty until I realized that what I took to be its willful obscurantism is actually a complete lack of commercial guile. Like Captain Beefheart, whom some of these angular compositions bring to mind, Hagerty is a primitivist with nary a radio-friendly bone in his body. The irresistible singalong chorus of opener “Know That” is as close to catchy as this album gets, but Hagerty more than makes up for his lack of a traditional pop sensibility with his quirky melodic sense and knack for crafting songs that aren’t as ragged and jagged as they first seem. Hagerty’s voice is Keith Richards-thin, but it’s well-suited to his oddball melodies and off-kilter arrangements, which emphasize clunky organ riffs, low-rent percussion, and some of the most extended guitar forays since the heyday of Frank Zappa. I especially like Hagerty’s alarming falsetto on “I Found a Stranger” and the slow-to-develop-but-worth-the-wait “Kali, the Carpenter,” which also offers up some of the funniest wah guitar I’ve ever heard. And I can’t get enough of the funky “Whiplash in Park,” which features the best bass line since David Essex’s “Rock On” and the freakiest guitar rave-up since, well, the one Hagerty plays on “Tender Metal.” This twisted little album is unlikely to make anybody’s top-10 list for 2001, mine included. But I’m really glad it’s around, if only for the truly outstanding “The Menace” and “Repeat the Sound of Joy,” both of which ooze so much offhand charm that they could have come off The Basement Tapes. And that, my friends, is no mean feat.

—Michael Little