Mary Timony: Ex Hex

Brandon Arnold

The third solo release from Timony finds the former Helium front lady casting aside her Castlevania jones, coming down from her cloud to explore more terrestrial themes with a healthy dose of stripped down, bare-knuckled rock. This is Mary Timony unhinged and unfiltered, a true return to form.

Mary Timony

Ex Hex

Label: Lookout!
US Release Date: 2005-04-19
UK Release Date: 2005-07-04
Amazon affiliate

Whether calling out the transgressions of old boyfriends, or weaving D&D-style yarns about wizards, vampires, and magic boxes, Mary Timony has never shied away from her demons. Since the end of her much-missed ex-band Helium, her solo output has focused on bent allegories and fairy tale obsessions, and so much has been made of her medieval fixations that it feels trite to even bring them up. She likes vampires and elves, okay? Who doesn't?

While ruminating on her Tolkienesqueries can be fascinating, I find the other side of her writing much more compelling. Mary calls it like she sees it, and she's not afraid to call you out. Her first lyrics on Ex Hex -- "I can't stand you lying here on the floor / But then again I've asked you to move before / And you haven't" -- paint a photorealistic image of a woman fed up with your lazy ass. Mary isn't the shy, skinny Boston girl you take her for. She's tough. She's walking out, and you deserve it. It's this overarching bluntness that dominates Ex Hex, and that goes for the music as well.

Just as her lyrics often point to folkloric beasts and beauties, her music has always held a distinct baroque flavor. But make no mistake: Mary Timony is a rocker, and Ex Hex leaves no doubt of that. This is helped in no small amount by the addition of drummer Devin Ocampo's aggro-stomp. His considerable drum talents and pedigree with Discord band the Medications lend Ex Hex an atmosphere that is decidedly D.C. sharp (also helped by cutting, percussive production by Fugazi drummer Brenden Canty). Though often buried on past releases, Timony's guitar riffing skills are impressive, and here they're brought to the fore. Timony's angular noodling so closely mirrors that of Ash Bowie (ex-Polvo, ex-band mate, ex-boyfriend) it's eerie, but that's not a problem. Someone's got to carry that torch, since Bowie himself seems to be hiding out in some sort of indie-rock witness protection program these days.

Ex Hex has a feeling of immediacy missing from much of Timony's earlier, more languid efforts. From the staccato riff that opens "On the Floor", through the spindly guitar line that propels the album's closer, "Harmony", the duo tears through the material like it's under deadline. Save a few choice overdubs, and one lush piano/vibraphone track ("In the Grass"), this is Mary as guitar goddess, stripped to the bare necessities of Fender and Marshall. Close your eyes during "Hard Times Are Hard" and you can almost smell the musty practice space.

Through all of this, Timony proves that she still knows how to deliver volcanic dynamic shifts. "Friend to JC" recalls the dissonant pop-squall of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, and "Return to Pirates" is guaranteed to please the hordes hungry for a Helium reunion (or a Polvo reunion for that matter). In contrast, "Silence" wisely uses empty space to mirror lyrical content: "We speak in silence / Just like not speaking at all". This serves as a nice contrast to the garage rawk propulsion of songs like "9 x 3", which conjure the ghost of Timony's first band, Autoclave.

When Timony's new formula works, it works fabulously, breathing new life into her material. Ex Hex will undoubtedly bring back a few fans that went scurrying for the hills when Timony's Mother Earth obsessions began to get the best of her. However, the unrelenting minimalism can become tiresome, and her considerable talent for adding new dimensions through multi-tracking is a little underused. It seems as if with Ex Hex she's torn down the castle of sound she'd been dwelling in for years, to hop in a grungy old van and hit the rock clubs.

But the truth is, the heart of Timony's sound hasn't changed much since her first Helium releases. Her songs have always reflected a life lived by tempering an emotionally difficult, sometimes mundane reality with bursts of fantastic escapism. No matter how far you run, you can never escape yourself. Your demons will always find you, but if exorcised properly, they can yield some pretty effective results, or in Mary's case, a damn good record.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.