Punk rock lives on the debut album by a new trio, Ex Hex. The album is called Rips, and it's at once a throwback to bands like the Ramones and the sound of something new. Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says the three women who make up Ex Hex have created an exhilaratingly energetic piece of work.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Punk rock lives on the debut album by the new trio, Ex Hex. The album is called "Rips," and rock critic Ken Tucker says it's at once a throwback to bands like The Ramones and the sound of something new and exhilarating.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERFALL")
EX HEX: (Singing) Surely there was no one to guide us. You know what I mean? So we're gonna ride the river before we quit this scene. You're my little waterfall, whoa - oh. I love to watch you roll and roll, whoa - oh. You took me to a party and you...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The initial triumph of "Rips" is that nearly every one of its songs is sing-along catchy. Immediately memorable. This may be because it reminds you of a certain era of pop or even of a particular pop song. Or because the guitar chords of Mary Timony seem so logical and inevitable, that even a new song takes on a familiar allure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WASTE YOUR TIME")
EX HEX: (Singing) I don't wanna waste your time. You keep talking to me, I might change my mind. There are colors that you can't see. I wanna say to you so naturally. I don't wanna hang out with anyone else. So why you wanna hide behind yourself?
TUCKER: Ex Hex consists of Mary Timony on guitar and the rhythm section of drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright. The members of Ex Hex came together after having performed in a number of other bands. Perhaps most notably, Timony was part of the post punk supergroup Wild Flag, which released but one album in 2011 before giving it a rest. In none of her previous bands has Timony played with such self-imposed concision. On "Rips," a few songs exceed three minutes. It's as though the band set itself formal parameters - the equivalent of writing a sonnet sequence. With feedback.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T WANNA LOSE")
EX HEX: (Singing) If you listen close, you might hear the sound. I would never let you down. I thought you were a man of action. Come on baby, come on give me a little reaction. I don't wanna lose your love. It's in my hand, it's just a question of if you're gonna stop messing around. You better hurry up, don't let me down.
TUCKER: This album was produced by Mitch Easter, who among other achievements, produced the early albums of REM and an album by one of Timony's previous bands, Helium. "Rips" has a clean, contemporary sound that contains the jangling rhythms and hard rock riffing Ex Hex likes to work witty variations on. The lyrics mostly goodbyes to bad guys with a little dry eyed yearning thrown in here and there. What the words do best is provide metrically precise sounds that further the momentum of any given song. Take pleasure in Ex Hex's excellent version of a girl group song called, "How You Got That Girl."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW YOU GOT THAT GIRL")
EX HEX: (Singing) Maybe I've changed but I don't worry. You're not gonna bring me down. I used to cry, cry, cry. Now I don't remember why. I just never want to hear that sound. You tell me this. You tell me that. It's what you give. You're gonna get it back. I've been the object of your affection. I've been the target of your cruel intention. And I know just how you got that girl.
TUCKER: Based in Washington, D.C., Mary Timony teaches guitar and her style is at once meticulous, lose and knowing. You can be sure she knows all of the oldies she's quoting in any given song, having probably been asked to show a student the chord progressions in everything from Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" to Tommy James And The Shondells "Crimson And Clover." Indeed, to my ears, a riff in the latter song is reworked to beautiful effect in one of Ex Hex's more expansive songs, "Hot And Cold.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT AND COLD")
EX HEX: (Singing) So hot, so cold. So young, so old. You look at me with snakelike eyes. I cannot see through your disguise.
TUCKER: Even if the band doesn't sell many copies of "Rips," I'll bet there are TV and movie music producers all over LA and New York who want to use its artful irony in their productions. This sort of guitar-based rock music isn't part of the hit making machinery just now. You're not, thank heaven, going to hear contestants on TV shows like "The Voice" doing Ex Hex covers. But that only means that it's exactly the right time for a reminder of how durable and endlessly elastic this kind of music can be.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "Rips," the debut album from Ex Hex. You can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.