Ex Hex’s debut album ‘Rips’ might’ve been released five years ago, but judging by the way it sounded – joyous, fuzzily euphoric punk rock–- you wouldn’t be surprised to hear it blaring out from a clapped up Chevy’s busted speakers as it roared around Manhattan’s East Village in the ’80s.
With an eclectic resume in punk-rock – between them, Ex Hex members have played in bands ranging from The Aquarium and Fire Tapes to Autoclave, Helium, and Wild Flag (which also included two thirds of Sleater-Kinney) – this Washington, DC band knows more than most about timeless, freewheeling punk rock.
‘It’s Real’ doesn’t stray a million miles from its predecessor. Chorus lines are still written to be yelped at ear-splitting volumes, with the stereo cranked up to breaking point; lyrics are punchy, pointed and effective. At times, though, Ex Hex do begin to step into glam territory; their low-ceilinged dive bar is located on a space shuttle. Nods to psychedelic rock are numerous. “You’re like a rainbow / But not the same though,” quips Timony on ‘Rainbow Shiner’ – and perhaps she’s making a sly nod towards The Rolling Stones’ multi-coloured jizz metaphors at the height of their trippy successes.
While ‘Rips’ went in hard with a single mission – to push the potential of a guitar as far as possible – the follow-up is happier to widen the experimental perimeters. Timony’s vocals on swaying closer ‘Talk to Me’ have been given the flanger treatment (mixing together two identical signals and putting a tiny, gradually shifting time delay on one of them) and ‘Cosmic Cave’ is a slab of galactic garage rock. All of this adds a playful new layer to Ex Hex’ ultra-distinctive sound.
Without this, ‘It’s Real’ could’ve been an entirely different record. Ex Hex’s sound is so distinctive that it’s also very tough to escape, but luckily Mary Timony, Betsy Wright and Laura Harris avoid stumbling into the trap of picking up where they left off. As it happens, ‘It’s Real’ is a bundle of collaborative fun instead. Don your glittery outfits and get ready to mosh.