There are two Ex Hexes. The first was Mary Timony’s third and final solo album. The ’90s saw the indie rock powerhouse hopping from band to band, project to project; She was the frontwoman of the acclaimed indie bands Autoclave and Helium and co-fronted another band, Wild Flag, with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney in the early 2010s. In the 2000s, she started releasing LPs on her own. Ex Hex was a highlight—haunting minor key melodies, gritty guitars, and percussion that pounded like a panicked heartbeat made it stand out.
The second Ex Hex, of course, is Timony’s latest group. In 2014, the garage rock band, which also includes Betsy Wright and Laura Harris, released its first LP, Rips. Now, it’s back with It’s Real. The cover art of the releases is oddly telling. The colors on Ripsare bold and intense; It’s Real has a softer palette. This makes sense, considering that the tone of It’s Real is generally lighter and less cutting—which unfortunately means that it’s less effective. Although the album will likely be enjoyed by those who crave driving beats and anthemic lyrics, it’s ultimately far from Timony’s most thrilling work.
Ex Hex opens with “Tough Enough,” the album’s strongest song. When the guitars first come in, they’re laid back, breezy. Then they roar like thunderclaps, leading up to the rallying cry of a chorus: “Acting tough ain’t good enough/When it’s time to roll, gonna let it go.” Timony and Co. have the empowered energy of The Runaways here; confidence and defiance simmer beneath every vocal. With lyrics like, “There’s a storm in the distance/But now it’s moving on/And I feel this summer coming on,” it’ll be a great track to blast under the sun in the coming months. The creatively named “Rainbow Shiner” is also entertaining; packed with powerful guitar riffs, it’s a love song with a punch.
Alas, from this point on, the album grows significantly less exciting. “Good Times” is a traditional major-key rock track; if its lyrics were more out-of-the-box, perhaps it’d be more interesting, but it’s bogged down by hackneyed phrasing like “I should have known right from the start/You’d mess around with my heart.” “Want It To Be True,” which follows, is a slower song. Its harmonies are beautiful, and its guitar solo is glorious—it hits you like a wave at high tide, drags you under, and brings you back to the surface for one last chorus. Yet it’s stymied by its rhyming couplets, which sometimes seem a bit forced. “The three words that I say to you/One of them’s not and one is true,” Timony sings at one point; she goes on to claim, “And the other one/You only know when you’re on the run.” The ambiguity makes for a puzzle that’s impossible to figure out.
“Diamond Drive” has an intriguing title and some fun, sci-fi-tinged lyrics about “creeps… swingin’ on the chandelier,” evoking images of wild action films. Yet the clichés and awkward rhymes make another appearance in the final bridge: “I just wanna see your face/Always, every day/But you disappeared with no trace/And you faded away.” “Cosmic Cave” has a jaunty chorus that’s sure to get fans at concerts moving—“Baby, come on and dance with me”—but its vague hints of mythological imagery remain largely unexplored.
All in all, It’s Real is not a bad album. The band’s brash, spirited ethos shines through each track; musically, it’s hard-hitting (especially in terms of its guitars). If you’re seeking something you’ve truly never heard before, though, you might want to look elsewhere.