If I had to simply sum up the kind of music that appeals to me the most, it would probably be something like “catchy rock n’ roll that doesn’t fuck around”. If I had to give you a similarly brief summation of what Rips, the debut album from Washington D.C. trio Ex Hex sounds like, it’d probably fall pretty closely in line with this description. And sure, I realize that simple melodies set to loud guitars in a glam-meets-garage type of manner is not really groundbreaking by any means, but I think that’s beside the point. Because in my eyes, joyfully energetic rock albums are the kinds of things that make life worth living, and though they might be the kinds of albums that sound simple in theory, most bands rarely pull them off with the kind of natural bravura that we hear on Rips.
Despite being a band for barely over a year, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ex Hex sounds as fully formed as they do, since they’re composed of a few D.C. indie vets led by Mary Timony. I first became aware of Timony when she was part of the indie rock supergroup Wild Flag, who put out their only album (which I loved) in 2011, and sadly won’t be putting out anymore since their announced breakup earlier this year. But from what I can gleam, Timony’s experience trading guitar licks with Carrie Brownstein on top of Janet Weiss’s thunderous drums in Wild Flag reawakened the kind of all-out riffage and innate sense of fun that she exudes in Ex Hex. And despite the fact that Wild Flag was seen mostly as an offshoot of Sleater-Kinney, I’m now starting to get the sense that Timony’s hummable guitar solos and witchy vocals are what made me like Wild Flag so much, and possibly what makes me like Ex Hex even more.
The fact that I bought this album on CD, and thus have gotten a lot of play out of it in the car, probably also explains why this album has been such a welcome addition to a world in which good driving music can be hard to come by. Because simply put, Rips never stops rippin’. Song after song continues to top itself in terms of delightful rockitude, even when it decides to slows things down (relatively) with something like “Hot And Cold”, the album’s lead single. Rips even employs one of my favorite tropes in rock albums, which I’ll refer to as the “late album overcompensation”. Meaning that late into this album, just after bringing things as far as you think this kind of band could possibly take it with an all-out rocker like “New Kid”, they figure out another way to triumphantly chug along with the next track “War Paint”. It’s an idea that could probably also be applied Timony’s career so far, as she’s been doing good stuff for quite a while now (including her ’90s indie-alt band Helium), yet on Rips it sounds like she’s just getting started.
Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Wanna Lose”, “Hot And Cold”, “New Kid”