The Ex is, undoubtedly, a band that more people have heard of than heard. They’re name dropped often in reviews and in hipster circles. They have been known to be mentioned in the same breath as Sonic Youth and Crass. Most people who claim to be “punk” can probably tell you about them, but few can probably describe what they sound like. This could all be intentional, as they have their niche, not at all the sort of band you could easily sell on a casual indie listener. The Ex is strongly political, abrasive and defiant of all things mainstream. They’re fierce, fiery, and don’t give a fuck about the rules. And for this reason, recognition of their sound hasn’t veered far beyond those who have sought it.
And for the uninitiated, The Ex’s newest album, Turn, is probably not the place to begin. It’s not that it’s a bad album, or even unrepresentative of the band’s career, but it’s a double album, making it an awfully long album to take in one sitting, especially for a newcomer. For those willing to take on about 90 minutes of anarchist chaos, however, Turn is actually quite a rewarding listen.
Disc one is a whirlwind of distortion, feedback and raw power. “Listen to the Painters” is a furious stomper, which doubles as a public service announcement for the importance of the arts: “We need poets/we need painters/ we need poets and paintings.” “Prism Song” is a shoegaze-y number with female vocals and “The Pie” actually begins with a recipe for sweet potato pie. Now that’s punk. The best track of the first disc is “3:45 AM,” a rockin’ five-minute psychobilly number that segues into the final track, “IP Man,” a dizzying descent into unstructured noise that disorients the listener, but ends the first half effectively.
Disc two opens with “Theme from Konono,” a simple instrumental rocker with more than enough cowbell to appease a Blue Oyster Cult convention. Next track “Huriyet” is a soulful world chant that serves as one of the least abrasive, most pleasant songs on the album, believe it or not. “Sister” comes next, building an intro out of tom-heavy drum beats, single-note feedback and an almost motorik-like repetition. Some edgy cello begins “Confusion Errorist,” a like-minded, repetitive track that comes off sounding like a cross between Eno-produced Talking Heads and Fugazi, but not as catchy as either. “Henry K” is one of the catchiest tracks on the collection, another Mekons-like psychobilly raveup and one of the strongest moments overall. And “In the Event” ends the album, slowly and quietly, but no less unsettling.
The Ex has been around a long time and built a reputation on being a band that cares not for musical conventions or commercializing themselves in the slightest. But they’re also one of history’s most interesting groups, and one that’s managed to keep their sound consistently fresh and innovative. And The Ex is one of the bands that both Ian McKaye and Steve Albini (who produced the album, incidentally) can agree on. Turn is long and a bit disjointed at times, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from picking it up. Few bands are this challenging, and we should revel in the band’s music as long as they continue to make it.
Mekons – Punk Rock
Sonic Youth – Confusion is Sex
Fugazi – End Hits
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.