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The Ex



Legendary Dutch musical collective The Ex has become fantastically musically accomplished since drawing straws to determine who got to play what instrument twenty years ago, but the group has never departed from its roots in Amsterdam's anarchist squats. Even as The Ex's members approach middle age, they retain the do-it-yourself ethos and radical social agenda that have always made them such a powerfully polemical and effective musical entity. At the same time, they have become increasingly eclectic, incorporating elements of Eastern European folk, jazz, and experimental music (see collaborations with the late avant-garde cellist Tom Cora, Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, and the Dog Faced Hermans) into the abrasive, barbed wire rock that is the foundation of their sound. Melody has never been the band's strong suit; fierce polemics are much better served by powerful rhythms, and with the passing of the years, The Ex has gotten at good at rhythms as anybody, incorporating African-style drumming and manic clickety-clack percussion into their sound, to go along with their trademark chunky bass lines and some of the slashingest guitars in all of rock. While virtually all their contemporaries (Gang of Four, The Fall, Wire) have succumbed to some combination of age and mediocrity, the fortysomething Ex could probably beat the tar out of the twentysomething Ex, and that's saying a lot.

Take, for instance, their tenth and eleventh studio albums, their first recordings on Chicago-based Touch and Go. Produced, appropriately enough, by longtime fan and post-punk enfant terrible Steve Albini, Starters Alternators (2000) and Dizzy Spells (2001) stand with early '80s Ex landmarks like Tumult and Blueprints for a Blackout as furious showcases of the group's trademark anti-melodic rhythmic deconstruction which influenced the sharp-edged styles of so many younger Touch and Go artists. Bottom-heavy bass and chaotic all-over-the-map drumming propel these songs forward with the force of a forty-car train in the process of derailing. Once the razor-sharp dueling guitars and fierce yelped vocals join the musical fray, all you want to do is run around with a baseball bat destroying establishment symbols.

The songs themselves are filled with brilliantly surreal moments of far-left expatiation. See the opener to Staters Alternators, "Frenzy," which singer G.W. Sok begins by barking, "Let me tell you about Karl Marx, a visionary fish in a pool of sharks." "Karaoke Blackout," from Dizzy Spells, is a classically strident Ex-ian statement of anti-conformity. The Ex is the top of the line for iconoclastic rock music, crafting punk jeremiads that will challenge both your ears and your worldview.

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