Listening to EXEK‘s music can feel like your headphones are slowly melting. Each of the group’s albums strips post-punk back to its barest essence and then plays a precarious game of balancing each new element that’s either added or subtracted, until it’s all swimming together in an acidic, psychedelic soup. They’ve spent over half a decade perfecting the approach, the Melbourne group’s debut album Biased Advice a pure distillation of their music at its starkest, with each subsequent release pulling new levers and opening up various trapdoors to find ways to arrive upon the strongest intersection between dub-punk purity and brain-swirling psychedelia.
The group’s fourth album Advertise Here—following last year’s new-material-plus-rarities compilation Good Thing They Ripped Up the Carpet—neither goes all-in on acid-laced maximalism nor the post-punk tension at the core of their sound. It’s in the expertise of the arrangements and the better integration between pulse and perplexity that sets Advertise Here as the band’s best album to date, a more sophisticated application of their most oddball impulses. Their weirdness remains their most proficient instrument, a tool through which the band are able to gradually make sturdy, steady terrain drip and drape like timepieces designed by Dali.
Each song on Advertise Here ends up far down a twisting path from where it began, swarms of disorienting sound slowly collecting like a beard of bees. The dancepunk strut of “(I’m In Your) Best Interest” is a more upbeat version of the core of every EXEK song, bass and percussion providing the backbone for an eventual outgrowth of swirls of guitar that channel Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets and eerie twinkles of keys. And yet it’s Albert Wolski’s narratives that end up being the most surreal part of the production, as he imagines “lips that drag along the ocean floor, and pick up every whore with fishy breath.”
Immediacy is rarely EXEK’s goal; the band work best when allowing their melodies to unfold gradually and naturally rather than jam-packing all of their songs with hooks. But while the six songs on Advertise Here—not counting its fluttery instrumental intro and outro tracks—might not represent the band at their most immediate, these often feel like their prettiest and more sensorially satisfying, delivering climaxes that aim for the upper atmosphere. “Unseasonable Warmth” bounces between sounds both sparse and sonically rich, as horns and synths cascade over a dubby bass backing. And between Wolski’s stream of consciousness rapid-fire verses, Valya LY Hooi sings, “I’ve hidden something nice somewhere again/Surely now you’re getting warmer friend,” as if describing the group’s own talent for playful musical subterfuge. Even when hewing relatively close to more straightforward post-punk on “Parricide is Painless,” their juxtaposition of guitar jangle and neon noir synths delivers something greater than the sum of its parts.
The cover of Advertise Here depicts two poodles, one with white fur and the other dyed a garish mixture of blue and pink. It’s a strong visual representation of the duality that exists in EXEK’s musical sphere—inside them there are two poodles?—a classic and organic sound coexisting with effects-drenched hallucinations. Here, the distance between the two feels even closer, with the line growing blurrier between their skeletal post-punk sound and their trippier synth-driven sojourns. EXEK’s wildest freak-outs are woven into the fabric of their music more naturally than they’ve ever been, each of these six extended pieces delivering a consuming psychedelic experience unto itself.
Label: Castle Face
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.