Few would have predicted it but power pop is back en vogue. If that sentence alone wasn't strange enough, Mary Timony, a musician groomed in the disaffected, sneering, 1990s is leading the revival with her latest band Ex Hex. Debuts evidently suit Timony, after all it's only three years since she shot back to the cultural forefront when Wild Flag released their eponymous debut album. That band, an all star female fourpiece fronted by Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein, certainly had power pop illusions, but rather than sit around waiting for a second record, Timony has struck out on her own.
Ex Hex is a three piece that possess a seemingly endless supply of catchy riffs, buoyant chords and ragged rock & roll licks. Rips isn't relentless, it doesn't speed by in a blitzkrieg assault, but it does possess a real sense of pace as each perfectly pitched track cascades into the next. Placing the band is tricky. Ex Hex have plenty of 70s post-punk looseness, there are dashes of Pretenders' brash coolness and plenty of The Cars' punchy pop prowess, but there's also a shamelessly accessible 80s charm to their work. Timony isn't afraid of being commercial - this is music that invites the listener to sing-along and whip out their air guitar.
Oddly, this freedom from posture doesn't mean Timony has banished any sense of 90s stand offishness. There's still a sense of slackerish understatement in her vocals and a sense of loose ease to the arrangements that eschews, but doesn't undermine, Ex Hex's power pop punch. The overall effect is undeniably endearing: a bunch of ex-drop outs who know they'll never be pristine pop stars, but won't let their pretensions stop them from giving it their all.
Picking out highlights is almost redundant, Rips is a serene listen; there's hardly a note out of place nor a second that isn't delightful. Still, even on such an accomplished record, the combination of "How You Got That Girl" and "Waterfall" manages to up their earworm stakes and remind the listener how bloody brilliant gimmick free rock and roll can be. The former prowls one moment and swoons the next, while the latter is a craftily detailed joy that wears a sense of amateurism on its sleeve even as a tubthumping guitar solo emerges midtrack. "Everywhere" is another gem, an ever so slightly distorted tale of obsession that's punctuated by wonderfully slinky guitar work.
Ex Hex have created something that's implausibly fun; a record that doffs its cap to the Pat Benetars of this world and yet feels oddly at home with The Kills. This is grown up music, written and performed by industry veterans, that's filled to the brim with joy and a lightness of touch. Their sound might recall The Runaways, but this is a record a group that young and inexperienced could never have mustered.
Rips is nostalgic, but it's thrills come inspite of its retrospective nature. 70s power-chords didn't become cool overnight, Ex Hex are making these naff sounds exhilarating once more. They are lucky in one respect: the rise of Haim has ensured that mid-tempo radio rock is no longer alien to young ears and, for that reason, Rips couldn't have arrived at a more appropriate moment, but Timony's triumph is her own. This is smart, stellar, pop and joyous rock.
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