Now in their 26th year, fiercely independent Dutch group The Ex possess one of the strongest singular visions in modern music. Since their first record, 1979’s All Corpses Smell the Same, their work has embodied their political passions. Released often on their own label, their music emerged strictly off the grid of corporations, outside interlopers and middle men. Parallel to their activities working for squatter’s rights, labor movements, and social equality, their engaging staccato rhythms were sliced through with punk’s sputter and growl. A move towards a free improv environment came later, allowing the group room to stretch out their version of guitar, bass, and drums fleshed out by saxophone and double bass thud. The Ex’s palette continues to grow, incorporating strains of world ethno-folk music they have encountered and championed in their travels. Turn, a double-disc set, finds them never self-referential, always reaching out to touch all of their core foundations.
The call for art as a saving tool in society comes from “Listen to the Painters”: “We need poetry and paintings…Narrow minds are weapons made for mass destruction…”, using wordplay on newsroom sound-bite terms of the day. In “The Pie”, the discussion goes further, addressing the bombing of CEOs with pies, pictured in the CD’s booklet as the pelting of Microsoft exec Bill Gates. The opening lines of the song are a recitation of a pie recipe, going into instructions on how the pie must be planted into the face directly, never thrown, for full effect.
“Confusion Errorist” is a complex, cathartic look at the American view of terrorists, in which the band proposes that the chaos erupting in the hunt for the bad guys ends in more terror than before. Deep intellectual analysis of geopolitics and fearless insertion of their socio-anarchist perspective is a bold, defining path drawn by The Ex. Few of their peers, either in their nascent days in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, or now amidst all the emo-punk caterwaulers, have equaled this loud, defiant cry.
With homage to some of their African heroes, The Ex has opened up worlds seldom heard on field recordings or modern clean-cut world music compilations. “Getatchew” is a rollicking tale devoted to and inspired by Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya. Using the war chant as his template, Mekurya used chants and devotional rhythmic patterns in his music long before modern jazz innovators like Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. “Huriyet” is an Eritrean liberation song, usually sung in a dialect called Tigre. Foreshadowing one of the most widely hailed emergences of African groups in decades, “Theme From Konono” is based on (and samples) the group Konono No. 1, a band from the area bordering Angola and Congo. Using homemade instruments like the amplified likembe, a thumb piano, amplified with parts from auto carburetors, wooden microphones, and pots and pans, they riff through Bazombo trance music. The Ex’s take on it here, with a sample of the likembe, embodies their joyful, celebratory music.
Love and happiness conquer all in The Ex’s world, a world of unity and equal footing for all musicians, all people. No band lives and breathes the tenets they sing of so directly, with such frenzied beauty and grace.
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// Notes from the Road
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