As a person born in the early 80s, it is shocking—shocking, I say!—that music from that era is increasingly filed under the category of “classic rock”. But, alas, here we are. On a tangentially-related note, Ex Hex’s new album, It’s Real, heads our way via Merge Records, heavily influenced by the fist-banging hard rock of yesteryear. The music created by these three ladies would fit in nicely on many an FM station’s staticky signal, blasting from speakers inside a 1988 Pontiac Firebird.
Cut from a similar cloth as vintage acts such as Heart, the Runaways, and even Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Ex Hex bring a garage rock mentality to guitar-heavy rock n’ roll made popular in the 1970s and 80s. The riffs are in the forefront on It’s Real, as singer/guitarist Mary Timony’s clean-cut voice splashed with reverb further evokes a classic rock vibe. Timony is a veteran of the indie rock scene, including having spent time in outfits such as the star-studded Wild Flag. She can also cut a mean solo, and her guitar is the star of the show on many of the album’s ten tracks.
Album highlights include “Rainbow Shiner”, with its heavy riffs and driving beat, as well as “Good Times”, which opts for a more easygoing brand of guitar rock. “Cosmic Cave” is one of the more energetic songs on the album, with lead guitars that sound straight from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
This form of garage rock that draws from the simplicity of the classics does have its downside, however. Much of the album’s material sounds very similar, with not much in the way of dynamic tempo changes or vibe variety. This adherence to a nostalgic sound can be limiting, and can potentially result in listeners feeling like they’ve heard this all before. Perhaps Ex Hex have leaned a little too hard into the classic formula. While enjoyable, It’s Real suffers from having too few fresh and forward-thinking ideas to enable many of its songs to come into their own.
It’s Real, perhaps not a classic itself, will still do much to entertain those with a soft spot for garage rock that embraces yesterday’s hard-edged rock n’ roll.