Album Review: Ex Hex—“Rips”

Ex Hex

By James Li

I think it’s a little silly and backhanded the way the music press talks about “women who rock.” Do we really need Rolling Stone to give us a list of the 50 greatest female albums of all time? Is it such a shocking revelation that women make music? Is it even more shocking that some of the most hard-hitting music this year has been made by women? We’ve got White Lung rallying against rape culture and Against Me! wrangling with gender dysphoria. We’ve got St. Vincent’s snaky fretwork and tUnE-yArDs’ crazy rhythms. Even on the more subdued side of things, we’ve got Angel Olsen singing odes to loneliness and Sharon Van Etten cutting her tongue so she can’t talk to you. That’s hardcore.

Album art for Rips

Album art for Rips

Washington D.C. native Mary Timony is another one of these supposedly elusive women who rock. She’s something of an indie rock lifer: she fronted Helium in the ‘90s, struck out on a solo career in the ‘00s, and teamed up with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss to form Wild Flag in 2010. She’s not new to indie rock, yet she remains fairly obscure. But Timony’s latest band Ex Hex — she’s joined by Betsy Wright on bass and Laura Harris on drums — and their debut album, Rips, just might turn that around.

Timony’s all-woman rock trio might invite comparisons to Sleater-Kinney. Sure, both bands embrace guitar heroics, a brash attitude, and rock ‘n’ roll fun. Sleater-Kinney invoked ‘70s legends like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple by playing sloppy, ear-bleeding rock ‘n’ roll (at the end of their career, at least). But Ex Hex idolizes different bands from the same period, like the Modern Lovers and the Ramones: their version of rock ‘n’ roll is glossier, more tightly-wound.

Ex Hex doesn’t set out to make a particularly innovative album on Rips, but they do latch onto a specific sound and execute it very well. Rips is a guitar album, but Timony chooses to focus on addictive riffs rather than the winding soloing she favoured in her days with Helium. Case in point, the bluesy strut on “Hot and Cold,” or the explosive power chords on “New Kid.” Timony will still throw in a sick solo once in a while to remind you that she has chops, though.

As a frontwoman, Timony exudes pure cool. She sings with the perfect amount of detached cool about her misadventures with boys — more like scrubs, really: “I thought you were a man of action / come on baby, come on, give me a little reaction,” Timony baits on album opener “Don’t Wanna Lose.” Betsy Wright pens “How You Got That Girl,” and the words are even more biting: “I’ve been the object of your affection / I’ve been the target of your cruel intention / and I know how you got that girl.”

The Cars’ Ric Ocasek recently produced an album for Weezer. The new Weezer album isn’t bad, but I think Ex Hex live up to the Cars’ power pop legacy better — the songs are catchy, thrilling, and incisive. Ex Hex hones in on one sound over twelve songs and 35 minutes. They’re definitely not the most diverse, ambitious, or ground-breaking band around. But if you’re looking for rock ‘n’ roll fun, it doesn’t get much better than Rips. (Merge)

Listen: “Hot and Cold”

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