Music

​On 'It's Real', Ex Hex Take a More Nuanced Approach to Songwriting

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

It's Real proves that Ex Hex can draw influences from different eras of rock music and spin them into something that sounds like only them.

It's Real
Ex Hex

Merge

22 March 2019

Ex Hex's 2014 album Rips condensed the best parts of power pop, garage rock, and glam, into a hook-filled visceral ball. The songs were short, sharp uppercuts with every single hitting their mark and leaving lasting, visible bruises. Their new album, It's Real, takes a slightly different approach, cushioning the blows with more expansive, rounded pop-rock songs.

Trading in their old touchstones for late 1970s arena rock and early 1980s power pop, the band cut out the excess, and muso-wankery. Instead, they mine the DNA of bands like Thin Lizzy, Boston, and even AC/DC and tease out the melodic strands that made their songs eternal radio staples.

"Tough Enough" builds slowly with clear daylight between the chord strums building to a crackling late 1970s rock chorus. The band sound as tight as they ever have with the rhythm section quickly locking together allowing for some impressive lead guitar work especially on the slippery, sliding guitar solo. The altogether harder, "Rainbow Shiner" puts a stoner rock spin on that classic AC/DC guitar sound. It stands as one of the most powerful, thrilling songs on the album.

With its golden, glowing harmonies, "Good Times" sounds like it could have beamed in straight from sunny 1970s California. The mid-tempo rocker "Want It to Be True" is another sunshine tune about summer romance ("You were just summer fun / Nothing really lasts forever"). "Another Dimension" tips its hat to 1980s glam metal, taking the ego and cartoonish elements out and replacing it with a little more grit. Unfortunately, it's a sound that doesn't quite convince, coming across as a little awkward and lacking anything truly memorable to take away from it.

The boisterous power pop of "Radiate" is a much better fit as is the superb "Talk to Me" featuring one of the best guitar solos on the album with all the notes gently teased out. "Diamond Drive" is the kind of song Courtney Love would kill for. Riding a simple, spikey riff and dynamic bass run, the song crams in so much swaggering attitude that it could start a scene all by itself.

"No Reflection" takes its cue from solo Stevie Nicks being a sophisticated, rock and roll song which reflects on culpability in a doomed relationship ("You were great / My behavior is no reflection of you"). "Cosmic Cave" is a much more urgent slice of bubblegum punk. On closer, "Talk to Me" Mary Timony's vocals are put through a flanger effect that sends it soaring into the cosmos. It's an interesting full stop on the album that suggests the band could take a wholly different direction, next time out.

On It's Real, Ex Hex have taken a more nuanced approach to their songwriting. Songs are given a little more space to breathe with hooks taking a little longer to bed in. On the whole, the added polish provides a little more rock 'n' roll oxygen, but at times the songs could do with a little more spit. Most importantly, however, It's Real proves that Ex Hex are able to draw influences from different eras of rock music and spin them into something that sounds like only them.

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