You may remember Ex Hex’s Mary Timony from Wild Flag, an explosive band from a few years ago who released a stunning debut album, played some incredible live shows, then promptly split for members to go and do other things (the most recent of these things, for member Carrie Brownstein, has been reforming the peerless Sleater-Kinney). Drummer Laura Harris comes from Dischord band The Aquarium, bassist Betsy Wright from Virginia rockers Fire Tapes. It’s a strong heritage.
But that is absolutely the last time we should talk about Ex Hex’s family tree, because this is a band who should be taken on their own merit. A band who, in spite of this being their debut album, have already carved out a strong sound rich in influence but completely assured of its own identity. The sweaty teen spirit of glam rock, the sugar-sweet lovesick hooks of power-pop, the cool, couldn’t-care-less vocals of new wave: Ex Hex crank out all this and more. This is punk, this is pop, this is every record you’ve ever loved melted down and re-cast into something distinctive and new – yet somehow comfortingly familiar.
The incessant, nostalgic referencing, in the hands of another band, might come across as smart, smug or self-congratulatory. But “Rips” is more than the sound of clever record nerds rehashing their record collections for your delectation. The killer blow comes with the passion that underlines it all – the panache and nonchalance with which the whole thing is carried off.
Album opener “Don’t Wanna Lose” swaggers in like the opening credits to an 80s cult road movie, “How You Got That Girl” broods like Rik Ocasek before spilling into the inevitable, yet brilliant hand-claps, “Radio On” is the sun-soaked chorus your summer never got to hear. The collective effect is as thrilling as a single walkman earbud threaded carefully up a school blazer sleeve.
Ex Hex are a one way ticket to the halcyon, underdog days of our youth; coming on like the cool kid at school who stares at you, impassively, from behind her shades as she throws your PE kit onto the the roof of the science block then proceeds to snog the face off your boyfriend. OK, so it’s a journey that never deviates from its formula and rarely throws up anything you don’t recognise from somewhere; but when the ride is this much fun it’s impossible to care.