I really don’t want to do this, but I need to make a point. Rips sounds like a whole boatload of stuff you’ve heard before. Much of it follows a well-defined straight and narrow, its deviations a one-foot step off the balance beam rather than full-fledged jumps. So, not only does Rips obviously derive from a host of well-worn rock subgenres, it doesn’t even significantly vary its influences. And you know what? Point is, it doesn’t matter one bit.
Ex Hex is the brainchild of indie rock stalwart Mary Timony, most recently late of supergroup Wild Flag. Having produced off-kilter college rock with Helium in the ‘90s and chunky, riff-laden power-pop with alongside half of Sleater-Kinney in Wild Flag, Timony has professed her desire with Ex Hex to reel her sound back to short, basic guitar pop songs “that sound like they could be on the radio in 1982”. And so it is, Timony and company exude not an ounce of bashfulness in their blatant gestures toward The Pretenders, The Cars, or The Jam – who wouldn’t love that? Hell, take those bands’ debuts – three stone-cold classics of New Wavy power pop – anyone wearing that trio on their sleeves is heading down a golden path. Now, if those influences aren’t your cuppa tea, then Ex Hex probably ain’t either….oh, and by the way, if that’s the case, then you’re stark raving mad.
Ex Hex is unabashedly stripped back; there’s not an ounce of fat to any component of their sound – sticking simply to unadorned guitar, drums, and bass – or any of the dozen tracks on Rips. However, the band is a calculated proposition, Timony seeking a particular sound as the band’s M.O. and the production is meaty with a suitable layer of gloss, yet she goes to no end to hide it. So, while the album is hardly a DIY effort, perhaps jeopardizing its authenticity to a degree if that’s something you’re worried about, it’s difficult to conjure an album this year as undeniably and immediately charming. From the outset, led by the first earworming riff in a land of them here, “Don’t Wanna Lose” slams the foot on the gas and Ex Hex never lets off the entire album. As tough as she can sound elsewhere, Timony is positively alluring when she coos, “I don’t wanna lose your love…”
If you’re thinking Timony’s worshipping at the altar of Ric Ocasek there, well that goes double on the “My Best Friend’s Girl” sound-alike “How You Got That Girl”. While full of fizz and sugar here, the trio proves equally adept at the sneering, leather-clad fare of “Beast” and, particularly, “New Kid”, where Timony turns her best Chrissie Hynde send-up. Lead single, “Hot And Cold”, virtually lifts directly from Lou Reed’s “Vicious”, but again, who’s to argue nicking from that giddily absurd gem of glam-rock? The biggest stylistic diversion here, relatively speaking, are the light tinges of psych lent to “Everywhere”, highlighted by Timony’s winding solo which, of course, is also handled with aplomb. Lyrically, Rips is exceedingly uncomplicated, unsurprisingly covering romantic and social foibles from a high-schooler’s worldview, yet Timony’s sincerity and pure sense of joy on Rips will still have you fist-pumping something as inanely hyperbolic as “New Kid”s chorus of, “you’re a warrior….warrior”.
Approaching an album critically, it’s easy to get entangled in pretense, searching for angles that may or may not be there, and often desperately attempting to make overwhelming socio-political connections. Every so often, you need those cobwebs cleared by an album that unequivocally reminds you of why you ever really wanted to discuss and expound upon music in the first place – that you love it; it excites you; that it can, even if briefly, unravel the knottiness of “real life” for you. Rips is that album; there’s nary an ounce of artiness or innovation here, and it sounds almost hopelessly out of time in 2014, yet you can’t help but grin and love it just the same.