Ex Hex – Rips

Mary Timony has led a storied and checkered career. She cut her teeth in Autoclave, a DC post-punk outfit whose reputation well exceeds its scant Dischord output. Then as Helium she delivered some enduring ’90s indie rock (see 1995’s The Dirt of Luck) before making an unfortunate detour into tree sprite art rock. Timony gradually reclaimed her mojo across a lower profile stretch under her own name, then burst back onto the scene by sharing lead duties with Carrie Brownstein in the short-lived and wonderful Wild Flag.

Clearly Wild Flag’s “power of rock” vibe ignited a spark, as Rips is easily Timony’s most musically direct work. Fronting the all-female trio Ex Hex, she hearkens back to the sounds of early ’80s Los Angeles new wave, when power pop songcraft cross-pollinated with punk energy and radio-friendly guitar licks weren’t yet off limits. It’s an era when Timony was still riding a tricycle rather than driving a convertible, but no matter.

Even Timony’s standout Wild Flag compositions took some time to reveal their charms, often breaching the four minute mark. On Rips she places a priority on immediacy, working in concise 2-3 minute packets with sharply articulated guitar/bass/drum structures. Timony proves herself to be a savvy riff lifter (“Hot and Cold”) and also capable of an effortless feel-good anthem (“Radio On”).

It’s a bit disconcerting to hear a woman who once built an entire EP around the tale of a street hooker killing her john singing paeans to the simple joys of boy/girl romance in a style reminiscent of Josie Cotton or the pre-gloss Go-Go’s. And it might come across as cloying (Timony does overplay her hand with the high school drama of “New Kid”) if it weren’t so well executed.

Oddly, the band name Ex Hex is a repurposing of the title of Timony’s 2005 album, the first she released under her own name. Rips marks an impressive reboot – it’s mostly confection and may not prove as long-lasting as some of her Helium work, but for now it’s pretty irresistible.

Ex Hex