Rips is as explanatory as album titles come. Ex Hex hail from Washington D.C., a long-time hardcore stronghold; not that the scene’s legacy is the one that leaves its mark on the power trio of Mary Timony, Betty White, and Laura Harris. Timony, last seen singing and slinging in Wild Flag, a band made up of ex-members of Sleater-Kinney and The Minders, has said that she and her current cohorts “all wanted to write songs that could be on the radio in the early ‘80s.” Rips does just what it says: twelve slices of instant garage sweeping by with the attitude and brevity of your average Ramones album.
Four crashing, wavering chords begin the timer on ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’, with Timony’s strings slashing between Harris’ blitzkrieg toms. The inner Stooge is unleashed on ‘Beast’, and hedonistic abandon reigns on ‘Waste Your Time’ – “Well, I don’t wanna let you down/I just wanna dance, wanna dance, wanna dance now.” Timony’s concise tales are delivered in the spaces between the power chord bombast of Townshend and guitar solos of Thunders, the no-frills drumming and the “woah-ohh”s, “yeah yeah”s and “ah ah”s that pepper the album.
‘You Fell Apart’ is an acerbic fuck you and ‘Waterfall’ is similarly cutting, its final couplet a kiss-off to another no-good low-life – “It’s a chemical reaction and nothing more/I want to show you my affection but you’re on the floor”. Rips is an album that embraces rock’n’roll tropes and spits them back out, with FM rock striding alongside new wave glam. ‘War Paint’s “I got no time for cool kids cos we gotta roll on and on” makes it explicit that anything goes – if it feels good, do it. References come thick and fast, be it in a lyric or a sonic snippet – The Velvet Underground; the Richards (Lloyd, Hell); The Modern Lovers; Blondie; The Knack; The Runaways. There are many more, sewn into the seams of Rips as indelibly as they are part of its members’ musical education.
Bassist Betsy Wright takes over writing duties on ‘How You Got That Girl’. The pop sensibilities are more pronounced as The Cars and ‘60s girl groups collide, with handclaps and backing “woah-ohh-ohh”s punctuating the barbs – “I’ve been the object of your affection/And I’ve been the target of your cruel intention/ And I know just how you got that girl” Wright continues to mine power pop gems on ‘Radio On’. The song could be from anywhere on that perfect one-two knockout of The dB’s first couple of records, with Wright the Peter Holsapple to Timony’s Chris Stamey.
Parallel lines of New York new wave and Los Angeles power pop converge on ‘Hot And Cold’, the album’s perfect assimilation of a lifetime of loving music, a tale of emotional impenetrability yet with passion radiating from every chord. There’s a lot of love packed into this half hour; a near-perfect hit rate. The only person enjoying this more than Ex Hex will be you. Justin McDaid
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