When Ex Hex exploded onto the scene with their unfettered brand of rock and riffage, the power trio for our generation had finally arrived. Made up of Mary Timony (guitar, vocals), Betsy Wright (bass, vocals), and Laura Harris (drums), the group’s 2014 debut Rips was a gleaming collection of tightly wound gems that scored Best New Music honors from Pitchfork, the top spot on Magnet Magazine’s Best of 2014 list, and No. 11 in that year’s Pazz & Jop critics poll. Near-constant touring throughout 2015 and 2016 established the band as a force to be reckoned with: an audacious three-piece distilling rock music to its essence with formidable skills and a reputation for frenzied and unabashedly fun live shows.
On It’s Real, the group’s forthcoming second album, Ex Hex’s commitment to larger-than-life riffs and unforgettable hooks remains intact, but the garage-y, post-punk approach that defined Rips has grown in scale and ambition. What started as a reaction to the blown-out aesthetic of Rips would test the sonic limits of the power trio and lead the band on a quest for a more immersive and three-dimensional sound. Vocal harmonies are layered ten tracks deep, solos shimmer and modulate atop heaving power chords, and the codas linger and stretch toward new frontiers of sound. On first listen, you might think you’ve unearthed a long-lost LP carved from the space where crunch-minded art rock and glitter-covered hard rock converge, an event horizon at the intersection of towering choruses and swaggering guitars.
Produced by Jonah Takagi (who also produced Rips), It’s Real was a more collaborative effort than its predecessor. Mary and Betsy could be found writing late into the night, leaning on Takagi to tighten up arrangements. Egos were surrendered in service to the music: Nothing was sacred or precious, and there was a relentless devotion to both songcraft and exploration. Dozens of guitar amps sat mic-ed in the next room, and the group experimented at a frenzied pace parsing countless combinations of instruments, pedals, and amps. They even dusted off Mary’s old Rockman, a small headphone amp designed by Boston guitarist Tom Scholz in 1982. Mary recounts, “It’s only about the size of a Walkman and takes eight AA batteries, but it sounds massive. We read that parts of [Def Leppard’s] Hysteria were tracked through it, and when we finally plugged it in, it blew our minds!”
The opening track “Tough Enough” is punky and defiant, with stacked backing vocals posing the question “Are you tough enough (to let it go)?” that’s resoundingly answered in the affirmative by a searing, triumphant guitar solo. “Cosmic Cave” is a bittersweet rave-up with shimmering phased guitars, a gooey-candied chorus, and beamed-in “whoa-oh-ohs” that add a touch of melancholia to the frenzied speed-of-sound pace. The ferocious and anthemic “Rainbow Shiner” is what Wright describes as “a victory song.” Her mordacious central riff is coupled with dueling guitar-god solos that explode from the stereo spectrum. The starlit “Another Dimension” has it all: pounding drums, palm-muted humbucking chugs, soaring harmonized vocals, and a stark, ethereal bridge that sends listeners deep into the lush sonic landscape that the band set out to create.
Ex Hex were already one of America’s best guitar bands—but on It’s Real, their musical savvy has thrillingly combined with anything-goes curiosity, studio experimentation, and a dedication to refinement, resulting in an album that’s ready to be played at maximum volume.
“Wake up…the world needs you”
Post Earth, the second full-length album from Los Angeles’ melodic noise punk quartet
FEELS, is a call to arms, interspersed with frustration and hope.
It’s in the title track, a riff-heavy dispatch from a near future when billionaires flee the
dying Earth, only to find their own comeuppance. It’s in the tuneful, ’70s punk of opener
Car and its dismissal of “one nation under fraud.” It’s in the jittery “Find A Way,” which
demands “Burn all the money, all the flags, all this stupid pride.” It’s in the entreaties to
resist of “Tollbooth:” “the world needs you and you and you.”
“It wasn’t intentional to write a politically charged record,” says bassist Amy Allen, who
constitutes FEELS with Laena Geronimo (guitar/vocals), Shannon Lay
(guitar/vocals), and Michael Perry Rudes (drums). “But the way the world is functioning
right now made it impossible to write about anything else. We all need to figure it out;
we’re running out of time. The golden age is over.”
Maybe FEELS did not start their second album with a conceptual agenda, but they
definitely intended to speak out: “If you have any kind of platform, you should use it for
good,” Lay states. Geronimo continues, “If our wildest dreams came true, the album
would sound exciting to people while also inspiring awareness and action against hate,
prejudice, greed, the destruction of our environment…apathy’s not cool and toppling
oppression could be fun if we do it together!”
With that steadfast proportion of heavy and light, Post Earth never completely wallows
in despair: look for The Simpsons references—courtesy of superfan Lay—in goofy rave-
up “Deconstructed.” The atmospheric jam “Sour” finds Geronimo defiantly proclaiming
“This land is our land” to the people in power who exploit division. The understated
melodies of “W.F.L. (Work For Love)” sing of dirt under fingernails “to remind us why we
do what we do.”
FEELS do what they do thanks to a bond that stretches back to adolescence.
Geronimo, Allen, and Rudes have known each other since high school, when the
Rudes’ garage served as the hangout and nexus for their musical projects. Rudes and
Lay played in Geronimo’s solo project, Raw Geronimo, for years before it morphed into
FEELS with the addition of Allen. Their shared history makes for a rare chemistry
After recording their 2016 eponymous debut – which earned the band press attention
from outlets including The FADER, SPIN and The Los Angeles Times — with Ty Segall
in one marathon daylong session, FEELS decamped to Northern California in August
2017 for a comparatively luxurious eight days with Tim Green. The former guitarist of
punk iconoclasts Nation of Ulysses, Green has worked with Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill,
Joanna Newsom and Jawbreaker among others. “His studio was an ideal experience to
be able to escape day-to-day tasks, lock ourselves away, and focus,” ruminates Rudes.
“I think the first album was very much like how we were live,” Lay says. “It was just this
barrage of noise and energy, and with this one we were able to give it some breath and
take our time—and also just think about what we were trying to say with this record and
how we didn’t necessarily want to constantly scream it at you.”
On Post Earth, FEELS strike this perfect balance with a mix of angular, interweaving
guitars, lush vocal harmonies, heavy bass and pummeling drums — at times hearty and
loud, and at others stunningly harmonic and calm. “We feel comfortable not having to
power through everything now,” Geronimo adds. “And for the more subtle things to be
heard versus glossed over with noise. Not that noise is a bad thing, but we’re doing all
of these weird, interesting things—maybe we should hear them.”
For Geronimo — the daughter of legendary Devo drummer Alan Myers who grew up
playing in a wide variety of projects with (and without) him – interesting is ingrained. The
interlocking components of Anyways reveal her classical training: “I wrote it to be these
really specific parts that had to layer over each other exactly, which is a real sheet-
music kind of bullshit thing,” she says, laughing. “Luckily everyone was down to humor me.”
But that’s the modis operandi of FEELS: “There’s no point in being like, ‘That’s not
going to work,’” Geronimo says. “Just try it—who knows?”
“Who knows?” is also the central question of Post Earth. “It’s more of a questioning than
a telling kind of album,” Geronimo says. “I guess that’s the bottom line. It’s a
questioning: What’s gonna happen?”
There’s no easy answer to that one. But if the good old days are over, Post Earth shows
FEELS’ golden age is just beginning.