Power trio Ex Hex comprises a blend of talented musicians who cut their teeth in the riot grrrl scene of the 1990s. Cazz Blase checks out their forthcoming album, Rips (released 13 October)
Ex Hex‘s press release describes them as a “Power Trio”, conjuring up aural memories of old Magnapop records and Sonic Youth at their more accidentally commercial. Composed of Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag), Laura Harris (The Aquarium, Benjy Ferree) and Betsy Wright (The Fire Tapes), they have made the kind of record that will not so much start a revolution as induce a particular variety of sullen rebellious attitude and arrogant rock’n’roll swagger in skinny-jean-clad girls, while putting a nostalgic smile on the faces of many other folk. Ladies and gentlemen, have your boots, studs, leather and lurex at the ready because the girls are back in town.
The aptly named Rips starts as it means to go on with the excellent ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’, a sea of crisp reverb fuelled guitars, pounding drums and sneery post-Kim Gordon vocal delivery. As a calling card from a new band, it would take a lot to beat it; as a single, it is one of the highlights of the year and, longer term, the song is a worthy successor to Sleater-Kinney’s ‘I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone’. It also has the spectre of Richard Hell in there somewhere: specifically an energetic echo of the yelping ‘Love Comes in Spurts’. The question has to be asked after these dizzying first few minutes, can the pace be maintained?
Second track ‘Beast’ delivers a fast and furious slice of stroppy 1970s New York punk, all energetic riffs and attitude, whereas ‘Waste Your Time’ suggests the band can slow it down a bit if needed and deliver an energetic melodic slice of pop punk that is reminiscent of summer days and denim cut offs. But the hectic pop punk energy of ‘You Fell Apart’ smacks of The Go-Go’s circa Beauty and the Beat, not just in its energetic post punk pop energy but in its lyrical phrasing, if not vocal delivery. This is no bad thing, quite the reverse, and it’s nice to see the biggest and best selling US girl rock band being acknowledged in this way, albeit not necessarily intentionally.
Another tribute seems to be within ‘How You Got That Girl’ which, if it isn’t a cover version, sounds incredibly like something Cheap Trick or The Cars would have done in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It struts along like an ’80s rock star in tight boots and leather trousers, has powerful hooks and is oddly familiar. Whether it is the missing link between The Cars’ ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and Cheap Trick’s ‘I Want You to Want Me’ or an acceptable response to Haim‘s ‘Don’t Save Me’ isn’t clear, but it does work (sort of).
The band return to type with ‘Waterfall’, which is straightforward Voidoids meets New York Dolls guitar riffage with a smidgen of The Runaways‘ ‘Cherry Bomb’. Meanwhile, the following track, ‘Hot and Cold’, takes its lead from the classic Mink DeVille track, ‘Spanish Stroll’, both in pace and in swagger; guitar wise, it is two parts ‘Spanish Stroll’ and one part ‘Sweet Jane’. While it doesn’t go anywhere lyrically, neither did ‘Spanish Stroll’, so an extended sneer is at least consistent.
The most promising track is the excellent ‘New Kid’, which begins with pounding drums and spiky guitar riffs before giving way to an edgy post punk guitar melody, feedback, power chords and a relentless fevered energy that would make it both an excellent live track and dance floor filler. It exudes attitude and talent.
The layered choppy riffs of the upbeat ‘War Paint’ are accompanied by low key backbone drums. As a piece, it builds, initially seeming slight but becoming increasingly intricate. This is a sophisticated punk pop anthem, not unlike Sonic Youth, circa Dirty. The ‘War Paint’ in question is makeup and the overall feel is of the girl about town. This gives way to ‘Everywhere’, which is a more bass- led affair, with a growling guitar sound and pounding drums underscoring the crystalline vocals. It is irresistible punk and reverb drenched pop, with pretty guitar riffs providing light against the shade; the overall result is measured and easy.
The ‘Outro’ makes for a suitably stylish exit. This is built around a lazy summery guitar, accompanied by brooding drums and slow drawled vocals. Despite the pace, it’s still recognisably New York punk inspired, and the ghost of the New York Dolls can be detected in there somewhere. Or was it just the ghost of a 1970s Mackenzie Phillips staggering down Sunset Strip in platform shoes?
This record isn’t going to change the world or, indeed, the music scene, but it has plenty to recommend it nonetheless. It is a tight, well-played, well-recorded and well-produced classic rock record by three very talented musicians who cut their teeth in the riot grrrl scene of the 1990s. The sound they are making is true to punk, but not in a derivative or fawning way, and Rips provides a healthy re-write of the classic rock rule book.