A reunion album by the last, best-known, and possibly most accessible band of the riot grrrl movement? Tch-yeah! This one seems to have taken the hipster music world by surprise. No record leak, no buzz or hype, almost no hint that the girls had gotten back together to make new music. So let's see what we got!
What I Liked:
Okay, it's official. The Sickest Riff Of 2015 Award is quite likely to go to S-K for 'Bury Our Friends'. The song is an epic allusion to their comeback; and a blistering, aggressive piece of punk rock. And the ladies don't stop there - the whole album is a rockfest of dramatic proportions. Tucker and Brownstein haven't lost their ability to wield a hard-hitting guitar sound, backed by Weiss' tight drumming. I like how they can make atonal licks sound so good at times. They write lyrics that make you think, give you something to chew on mentally. 'Price Tag' starts the disc with its theme of overextension - or buyer's remorse, more likely. 'Surface Envy' and 'No Cities To Love' both put a troubled and slightly gloomy verse together with an upbeat chorus, to good effect - the former being the more dualistic of the two. I like the super upbeat and poppy feel of 'A New Wave' - which I could actually see being on the Ex Hex disc reviewed below! It's such an energetic song, with a neat vocal hook (...but a fit would be more FIT-TING! FIT-TING!) that I keep getting stuck in my head. The irony of a true rock anthem being titled 'No Anthems' is not lost on me, but it's a true face-melter, and prepares you for the sinisterly cathartic 'Gimme Love'. My personal favorite from the album is, as you probably guessed, 'Bury Our Friends'. It's just so heavy and makes such an impact when it hits you - and I dare say it blows AC/DC's 'Back In Black' out of the water as a comeback statement! 'Hey Darling' brings the mood up again with a touch of melancholy. If that wasn't in there, it'd just be too sugary. And 'Fade' sends the album out on a big rock ballad sound. It has a very Doors-like or Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd quality, somehow. It's spacey and dark and delightfully transcendent.
What I Didn't Like:
Y'know, this may be as close to a perfect album as I can think of. Nothing truly offends me, although I can see how their occasional atonal moment might turn off some people.
I sprang for the deluxe edition of the vinyl, which is pressed in white, has a really nice slipcover and inner package, and a two-song bonus 12". The bonus disc is the songs 'Heavy When I Need It', a sunny ode to adaptability; and 'The Fog And Filthy Air', a spooky, gnarly rocker that sounds just as it's title indicates.
In Conclusion:I think I enjoyed this too much. It's one of the best albums of 2015, at least so far. I don't know how this could be topped.
What I Liked:
Side One gave me the impression of a punk cover band for Canned Heat. Every track is so upbeat and sunny - sunny! - that it's got this sunshiney hippie vibe, after a fashion. Much of both sides sound very three-chord caffeinated - there's no lack of energy here. It's largely well-done, simple, stripped-down rock, if not strictly punk. Timony can shred like few I've heard - if all those solos and licks are completely off-the-cuff, I'm impressed, and if they're not, they still sound damn good! The slightly slower 'Waste Your Time' has a nice hook that gets better when the vocals join in on it, and opener 'Don't Wanna Lose' features a delightfully fun chorus. While Side Two slows down at first with the stomptastic 'Hot And Cold' - seriously, the song is all epic, big, meaty 70's hard rock - it's just as good. 'Radio On' is another classic, if comparatively low-key rocker, and 'New Kid' is the closest to punk that the ladies get. It's the only song that I could hear the Ramones cover! Most of the lyrics are pretty clever, if about somewhat pedestrian stuff like parties and overdoing it at same and relationships; but 'Everywhere' seems to hide a transcendent double meaning I haven't deciphered yet. 'Outro' is kind of an opulent almost-arena-rocker with a slow beat leading the album out; I like that it's a little dreamy-sounding. Best Songs: 'Don't Wanna Lose', 'Hot And Cold', and 'Waterfall', although the rest of the album is a great second tier.
What I Didn't Like:
The downside to having the greater part of the album be so upbeat and sunny and fast-paced is that the songs are all very similar. It can be hard to tell some of the lesser material apart in memory. There's a lot of what seems to be riffs all in the same key. Timony wrote much more complex and interesting material, musically speaking, with Wild Flag - where has that gone? Next album please, Mary? The lyrics, like I said earlier, could also use a little more depth, but I consider that a nitpick.
While I still think Mary Timony had a sonically better deal in Wild Flag, Ex Hex promises to be an awesome act, and I hope they can stay together for even just a little longer than Wild Flag. This has proven to be an eye-opening debut and an unabashedly good rock album.