Mary Timony’s latest project, Ex Hex, tears like a chainsaw out of the speakers. Charmingly loose and just sloppy enough, the album Rips presents a significant departure from the gloomier, synth dappled Superball-era Helium she earned acclaim for in the 90s. Gone are the grungier bass lines and anesthetized vocalizations that may have fueled my uncomfortable high school crush on her. This is direct, forceful rock n’ roll, best played loud. It’s slightly countrified, pleasantly garagey, and arguably the most radio-friendly thing she’s done.
Considering my previous associations with Timony, I was jarred by the frequent choruses of “whoa-oh-ohs” that intersperse these songs that clock in at around two and a half minutes apiece. Ex Hex manages to channel much of the pantheon of rock, sounding by turns like Tom Petty, The Cars, Joan Jett, and Pat Benatar. It’s like she might have been the mother of all the Donnas, before their records became overproduced pablum. Guitar solos never seem to last longer than fifteen seconds at the most. This is a solid album for driving around aimlessly on a summer night.
Timony’s singing doesn’t soften the edges at all, somehow enhancing the ragged quality of the instrumentation. Her voice slithers over the tracks, subtly taunting you like that girl at the bar you want to fuck but never will. Tracks like “New Kid” open with a sound that’s almost equal parts Cure and Iggy Pop, while a descending guitar riff punctuates the verses with beguiling brashness. “You’re the new kid, and you’re a warrior,” she spits. Hand claps follow. These, coupled with the effervescent rawboned punkiness of the album, may have served to exacerbate my high school crush somewhat.
On the surface, Rips appears as a guileless rock ‘n’ roll record, but there’s something subtly subversive at play here. Tracks like “War Paint“ are most reminiscent of early Helium, but there’s a Ramones-and-Undertones jollity that keeps everything upbeat and accessible. The album was recorded in two weeks, and at times it sounds even more rushed than that, but this is by no means a slapdash affair. The time allotted seems exactly right, as though the pressure was properly channeled into steady blasts of beer-foamed rock fuzz.
While this album may not ultimately achieve rock immortality, it’s a hell of a lot of fun – a Benzedrine buzz that rattles your teeth and makes you want to wrench your body with all due violence. If the album is any indication of the live show, I’ll be making a trip to see Ex Hex in person. The crush probably has nothing to do with that impulse. Probably.