I was an early, vocal, and fiercely committed disciple of Wild Flag. For many, it seemed to take a little while for the band and the album to really take root, presumably because band member Carrie Brownstein’s growing prominence outside of the rock ‘n’ roll realm created an impression that Wild Flag was a side project and therefore not worth much attention. A lot of the initial reviews smacked of disinterest, though there was a slight uptick when it came time to tally up year-end lists, as the reverberating pleasures of the tuneful, driving music proved enduring. Surely there would have been an entirely different brand of attention to greet the band’s sophomore release, an artifact that will probably never be pressed into existence. With Brownstein indeed looking less and less likely to ever return to music as a day job, it’s up to others to carry the Wild Flag torch further, with Mary Timony the most likely contender.
In some ways, though, Timony requires a bit of an artistic transformation to fulfill the task, given that much of her prior work, either with Helium or as a solo artist, was more tender, preferring elegant pop deconstructions to high-volume authority. Timony’s new band, Ex Hex (a name she has employed previously), is out with their debut, Rips, and while it scratches my significant Wild Flag itch, there are some dynamics and shadings to it that make it clear it’s an expression of a different sensibility, one shaped by the whole history the bandleader brings into it. Working with drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright, Timony delivers a record of garage rock goodness influenced by the bubblegum snap of power pop. It makes for an exuberant, delirious listen. So, yeah, it’s a lot like Wild Flag.
The album thunders to life to “Don’t Wanna Lose,” some mild psychedelic sonics shimmering under the lyrics “I thought you were a man of action/ Come on, baby, come on, give me a little reaction.” Quickly, the prevailing sound of the album locks into place, and Ex Hex is on its way to juicy rock glory. “How You Got That Girl” combines a sharp retro sheen with enough confident swagger to suggest Blondie and the Runaways collaborating during their shared late-seventies heyday. That endearing tilt towards sounds past — maybe evoking a time when rock ‘n’ roll still ruled — means the album even has a place for a song called “Radio On,” celebrating a time when freedom could be found by tuning the dial wisely. The songs aren’t uniformly great (single “Hot and Cold” is a track that idles when it should roar, for example), but overall the record provides a pile-up of good time, guitar-blast winners, the kinds of things that become locked in the brain and soul with equal stubbornness.
There’s also a nice directness to the lyrics that suits the plainspoken muscle of the music. When “Waste Your Time” sums up a romantic conflict with “I don’t wanna hang out with anyone else/ So why you wanna hide behind yourself,” it sounds a concern that could have been voiced in similar songs a few dozen years ago. That could make it sound stale, I suppose. Instead, it strikes me as timeless, tapping into the appeal of a guitar, bass, and drums played together with authority. That’s further ratified by the pleasures of “Everywhere,” which includes a nifty cascading guitar flourish, and single “Waterfall,” the sort of song that the Go-Go’s might have come up with if they had a little more punk in their veins. On the strident putdown “War Paint,” Timony sings “So put your war paint on/ And dance alone in the crowd/ And so you will discover/ The music was just too loud.” With Rips, I can assert that “too loud” isn’t a phrase that I’ve had cause to employ.