We may never know why indie-rock super-group Wild Flag decided to call it a day so soon after the release of their excellent 2011 debut, but I have a couple of theories. The first is that the two members who weren’t Janet Weiss or Carrie Brownstein (and probably, in all honesty, the two that were) tired quite quickly of the group being talked about as some kind of footnote to the Sleater Kinney story, comparisons with that pair’s former outfit being lazy but somewhat inevitable, all things considered; the second is that co-frontwoman Mary Timony found time to step back and evaluate the songs she had been working on with her other new band Ex Hex and decided that, actually, they were good enough to warrant her absolute, undivided attention. If theory number two has any basis in fact we should count Wild Flag’s seemingly premature end as a blessing in disguise, because Ex Hex’s first full-length Rips is a treasure trove of rock ‘n’ roll riches that will make the antennae of anyone still in love with the sound of a slightly overdriven electric guitar twitch and throb and extend towards the sky. Whilst certainly closer in spirit to Wild Flag than the grunge-era bands she made her name with (Autoclave, Helium), Rips finds Timony – ably assisted by Betsy Wright on bass and drummer Laura Harris – approaching classic rock from the opposite end, jettisoning the bombastic and occasionally self-indulgent Led Zep/ Doors/ Who tendencies that Brownstein and Weiss carried across from SK in favour of the kind of lean, wiry power pop that ruled the airwaves as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s. So on “How You Got That Girl”, “Waste Your Time” and “Radio On” we hear echoes of Cheap Trick and Nick Lowe, “My Best Friend’s Girl” by The Cars and The Knack’s “My Sharona” – all squealing guitar hero(ine) solos and back-up “whoa-oh-oh”s – whilst the snarling “Beast“, “You Fell Apart” and “Waterfall” sound like Blondie and the New York Dolls in an amphetamine-fuelled attempt to out-glam each other, Wright and Harris the rattling runaway train and Timony the steady-handed if somewhat daredevil driver. Coupling short, sharp songs (most clock in at under three minutes, with only one exceeding four) with punchy speaker-popping production that goes against the current fashion by sounding like it was recorded in an actual studio, Rips is that rarest of things, a record that wears its influences on its sleeve without coming across as the circle jerk at the intersection of Plain and Boring it threatens to be on paper; one that sounds timeless but not derivative (although “Hot & Cold” does position itself shamelessly on a sun-lounger right in the middle of “Sweet Jane”‘s back yard), a surprise, stinging blindside blow that turns out to be a clap on the back from a long lost loved one. It’s a joyous romp through a less complicated past when lifelong friendships were decided by hairstyles and patches sewn onto jackets and scumbag exes (and new partners alike) were forgotten after one good night out; when you could cruise around your neighbourhood with the window down, drumming on the steering wheel and singing along to the radio at the top of your voice and not have to question whether or not you were cooler than the kids pointing and laughing behind their hands. Of this year’s leading ladies, St. Vincent may be more innovative, Angel Olsen more intense and Perfect Pussy more vital, but none of them sound like they’re having half as good a time as this grown-up punk princess and her gal pals, and whilst some of 2014’s biggest critical hits have been big, sweeping statement pieces Ex Hex have just made the most succinct point of all: “ROCK N ROLL RULEZ OK”.
Rips is out now via Merge Records; listen to “Don’t Wanna Lose” below.