There’s something about Haggard Cat that feels as though they were never supposed to be more than a side project. After the unfortunate split of Heck last year, it felt to some that the other band of guitarist Matt Reynolds and drummer Tom Marsh was left to fill the void that was left. And honestly, without the leg up they already have, it most likely would be difficult for Haggard Cat to accumulate any notable traction; after all, this is yet another power duo carved from scuzzed-up garage-rock and the desire to make a great noise with very little at their disposal. It feels fine for a side project, tapping into a different creative vein than their main band would take, but at least on paper, the ubiquity of these sorts of acts gives Haggard Cat very little to work with.
That said, that’s based on expectations alone, and it’d be unfair to discount the acts like ’68 or Death From Above who’ve taken the tired two-piece setup and turned it into something a bit more ragged and unpredictable. Hell, with their background in Heck, there’s little doubt that Haggard Cat would do the same, and sure enough, Challenger goes a long way in meeting those expectations. This isn’t the sort of garage-rock fare that gets stale after one listen, as Haggard Cat are able to tap into something more frenetic and spontaneous, like the all-encompassing rumble of Bad News (Travels Fast), or Reynolds’ vocal performance which consistently spikes erratically for that snarling punk edge. As an album, this really does sound like it was recorded off the cuff in the best way possible.
Of course, with an album that relies so heavily on lo-fi sizzle like this, there’s bound to be a few missteps, and Haggard Cat don’t exactly prove that wrong here. The blasted-out fuzz of The Patriot and the clunky, extended blues solo of The Legend are both indicative of a band who are still teething on this kind of sound, but given how unwieldy this sort of exposed production has been in the past for far more established acts than this, this isn’t a bad effort at all. The duo clearly know their way around a fat, sunburnt groove as the likes of American Graffiti and Bone Shaker clearly attest to, and the gradually-emerging horns on closer High Roller reach a point of tightly-controlled chaos that desperately needs to be explored further, if only to potentially mine another gem like this.
And that’s always good to take account of, particularly when plowing such a well-worn furrow as this, and actually managing to find something interesting and vital within it. Really, Haggard Cat aren’t revolutionising the sound, but when what they are doing ekes as much raucous energy out as possible, it’s tough to complain on the whole. Challenger is yet another impressive alternative to a sound that’s become played out as quickly as it became interesting, and the more of them that can be brought around, the better.
For fans of: Death From Above, ’68, Japandroids
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Challenger’ by Haggard Cat is released on 20th April on Earache Records.