After seeing Ex Hex live this week, it has become quite apparent that it was misguided of me to frame Ex Hex as exclusively a Mary Timony project in my recent Retrospecticus. After all, bassist Betsy Wright sang lead and wrote two of the songs on the band’s debut, and does the same on several songs on the band’s latest album It’s Real, including headbangers like “Rainbow Shiner”. And live, she doesn’t even play bass anymore – she instead plays just about as much lead guitar as Timony, and thus gives the appearance that the band has not one, but two really awesome frontwomen. (Note: some generic dude played bass slightly off stage in Wright’s place. I cannot confirm whether it was Jonah Takagi, who produced It’s Real and played some bass on it.)
Also, after listening to the debut album by Betsy Wright’s side project Bat Fangs last year, I have to assume she’s just as responsible for Ex Hex’s glammed up sound as Mary Timony. However, on this album, they veer a little more away from the glam-y/poppy-punk sounds of their first album, and more towards the late 70s/early 80s era of rock, right in that sweet spot where arena rock was slowly transforming into hair metal. In the process, it adds just enough layers to the band’s already very fun sound, so that they still sound pretty darn fun and rockin’, but in a slightly different way.
Because It’s Real leans a bit more into embracing the radio rock of yesteryear, the production is noticeably more polished than the band’s debut. Rips had a pretty bare bones guitar-bass-drums approach that nonetheless sounded completely alive because there was so much energy and craft behind the songs. It’s Real on the other hand, again pretty much sticks to those same three quintessential rock instruments, but as mentioned earlier, everything’s just a little bit more layered – more guitars, more sing-along vocals, and more anthemic sweep. And in the process, it satisfyingly follows up a debut so fully formed that it couldn’t have been easy to follow up.