Hex House readies an album of sparse but ambitious post-hardcore
The Madison band celebrates its self-titled debut release on June 29 at Mickey's Tavern. (Photo: From left to right, Hex House is Lennon Baker, Alex Prochaska, and Cal Lamore. Photo by JC Dunst Photography.)
Hex House’s songs rarely take a direct path from point A to point B. Even between chorus- and verse-like sections, the trio works in a lot of detours and asides. "Wild Mirror," the first track from the band's self-titled debut album, ends with a 25-second section that recalls the jagged tension of Unwound, a departure from the mournful waltz that occupies most of the preceding four and a half minutes. On another standout track, "Gliss," which you can hear below, the band slides between aggressive sprints and moments of gentle, droning melancholy. As guitarist/vocalist Cal Lamore, bassist Lennon Baker, and drummer Alex Prochaska navigate these winding structures—like post-rock songs, but compact—they still manage to play like a lean and nimble unit. Along the way they embrace plenty of complexity but, they don't let it encumber the live, instinctual feel of the album, whose release they'll celebrate with a June 29 show at Mickey's.
"Hex House formed immediately after my last group, The Ferns, ended," Lamore says. "I was sick of trying to write 'song-songs,' or at least tired of intentionally striving to follow a traditional pop song structure and I knew I wanted to do a three-piece. I wasn’t trying to outright reject or avoid any particular style, but wanted to just write and follow whatever path that led me down."
What resulted is a writing process in which Lamore contributes most of the actual riffs, but the whole trio works together democratically to figure out how they'll fit together. Baker, Prochaska, and Lamore have played together in various other projects for about 10 years, and that probably explains the rhythmic flexibility at work on Hex House. (All three were in The Ferns, and members' past and present projects include Madison bands Drug Spider, Gentle Brontosaurus, Caryatids, and TL;DR.) Prochaska can steer the band through a lot of shifts in feel and tempo, even within one song, and Baker's playing has a warm and bend-y touch, refreshingly free of the rigidity one often hears in post-punk bassists. Lamore often loops his guitar, mostly to add some dimension and atmosphere to the trio's sound, but sometimes to establish a repeating phrase. The loops are never really the core of a Hex House song, but they're important enough to keep the members on their toes, timing-wise.
"A lot of credit goes to Alex for playing drums to live loops that aren’t always in perfect time. I don’t save any loops," Lamore says. "I always make them on the spot so it’s risky but that’s half the fun." (Some loop pedals let players save phrases or even use a MIDI clock to maintain rhythmic order, but most just rely on the player to stomp on a switch with just the right timing.) Lamore says he tries to embrace "a lot of push and pull between the instruments. We didn’t use a metronome when we recorded and really just wanted to capture what we do as a band live."
The tension and turbulence just heightens the bleakness of these songs, written during a time of change, stress, and breakups. But there are still moments where the band seems to breathe a sigh of relief, especially on two short transition tracks called "Hex Us I" and "Hex Us II," both largely built around shimmery guitar swells, and the instrumental closer, "You've Never Seen A Stairway Before," which evokes the moments in life when anger and sadness give way to endorphins and resolve. These songs help to put the cutting menace of song like "Vital Wave" into a bigger context, giving us a record that both inhabits and looks past life's harsh periods. Hex House is currently at work on an EP to follow up the album.