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|THE EX: Don't you forget us #7|
Seventh instalment in my forgotten/dismissed/underappreciated Post-Punk bands list series: Not a lot of people realise that from all the places in the world, Netherlands had their own underground Post-Punk scene back in the day. The highly political, aggressive and thematically radical band The Ex might just be the most renowned example of the scene. They've made a name for themselves over the years for their highly critical views and their surprisingly long lasting career. Let's dissect all of its ins and outs now.
A sore thumb in the Ex's discography, this album focuses way too much on being all out there weird and unpredictible that it forgets to be actually... musical. I have no doubts that this too has its audience, but all-in-all it seems to be just an experimental directionless mess with literally no real focus or actual musical idea put into it.
Go-to tracks: Keng Lil Surf, Bon-Go Tell You Git-La La, Atoll, Danse Maudit, Karremans' Last Measure
|25||Sonic Youth, Instant Composers Pool and The Ex|
In the Fishtank 9
The highly intriguing and promising idea of collaboration between the Ex and Sonic Youth ended up being nothing more than just a sticking dud. The resulting album intentionally doesn't have a single note of structure, shape or organisation. Everything seems bundled together with literally no cohesion whatsoever. At the very least, unlike Instant, it doesn't drag out into over 30 tracks and ends with 8, but 8 nearly unbearable ones.
Go-to tracks: X (if you're willing to go there)
|24||Tortoise and The Ex|
In the Fishtank 5
...and also this. As unfortunate as it is (again), teaming up with the Post-Rockers Tortoise didn't go as well as the two collectives had hoped. The result of their work is a less than stellar EP of mostly forgettable and muddled tracks that don't always seem to have any heads or tails or even any particular songwriting shape. It's a hasty and jumbled project that has it's points, but ultimately falls flat on nearly every aspect. Nothing extraordinarily bad, but not a lot of memorable or even outstanding moments either.
Go-to tracks: The Lawn of the Limp, Did You Comb?
A collection of EPs released over a course of multiple years serves to showcase the band's progression over the years. It reaches from extravagant harshness, to experimentation with world music, to just good old plain straightforward Punk. There is no bigger mystery or concept to this other than it is a collection of songs from different periods of the band's career. It's a decent assembly for the first half of it, but once the improvisational cuts kick in it pretty much deteriorates into an odd an often hard to sit through mess. It is obvious what the band was pursuing with each individual instalment, but as a collection it rather falls apart, especially given the fact that most of the songs are just underproduced and sometimes plain unlistenable.
Go-to tracks: Slimy Toad, Ceme Ryne, Bird in the Hand
Dignity of Labour
Certainly an intriguing album, but one that focuses too much on its Noise components and not enough on its actual substance. It is way too distorted and disorganised for its own good. There is no real sense of cohesion to this. But that is also its biggest charm. The album flows like a strange, nightmarish and grotesque drug trip, spiralling through the oddest and most earpiercing musical boulevards it can. You feel like you're getting drunker the more you listen to it.
Go-to tracks: Sucked Out Chucked Out 4
Disturbing Domestic Peace
The rough and tough start to a band who would late go on to be defined by those exact terms. Seeing just what ambitious and musically diverse lengths they would go into after this, this record just seems a little too one-note, samey and simplistic, even compared to the band's more straightforward outputs. It's just a tad underwhelming. Nowhere near a terrible release, but rough and lacking a certain engaging punch to it, beside the obvious musical punch it undoubtedly possesses.
Go-to tracks: Warning Shot, New Wars
Blueprints for a Blackout
This album's predecessor (Tumult) set a new course for the band's style, a slightly calmer, more ruminating direction for their anger and frustration. This album twists it inside out. It seems like the band has grabbed their newly found, increasingly experimental style, but squeezed it a tad too hard and didn't mix it up with much of anything creative. And in the end, there's a perfectly obscure and aimless album that only serves to reflect the band's bitterness and stubborn mood.
Go-to tracks: Blueprints for a Blackout, Grimm Stories, Scrub That Scum
All Corpses Smell the Same
Although this was released at around the same time as their less than perfect debut album, it is strange to hear that this 9 minutes long EP sounds way clearer and more focused than the album it is tied in with. It still has that amateurish flatness to it and their angsty political anger is still more-or-less general and without any particular focus, but as far as debuts go, it is a fairly enjoyable, albeit brief product.
Go-to tracks: Human Car, Apathy Disease
|18||The Ex and Tom Cora|
Scrabbling at the Lock
Okay, all professionalism aside, BEST GODDAMN OPENER EVER! The album also has a much more crisp production than the band's usual material up until now and some of the songwriting is way calmer, folky and more musically obscure. On the other hand, adding cellist Tom Cora into the mix, while an interesting idea, is what the album suffers, aside from its strange pace and its obscure, obnoxious songwriting, or rather the lack thereof. It's an album that is from the most part strongly influenced by Tom Cora himself and his avant-garde approach, which is not balanced well with the band and in the end they compromise their songwriting abilities to fit Cora' artsy style. Unfortunately, this is a style over substance.
Go-to tracks: State of Shock, A Door
|17||The Ex and Tom Cora|
And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders
This feels like an improved version of Scrabbling at the Lock. But it does still suffer from a lot of the same problems, be it weak songwriting or overly disorganised instrumentation. However, as a whole product it feels much more cohesive than its predecessor. There is no more unnecessary abstraction to its style. The songs flow with a much more straightforward pace, which ultimately paid off way better.
Go-to tracks: Dere Geliyor Dere, The Big Black, What's the Story, Conviction Going Dada
1936 - The Spanish Revolution
Dense, brief and apprehensively morose. It's a rapid and energetically harsh little EP that only goes on to show the band's admirable ability to create rough in-your-face critical music with a good dose of heart and near-anxious brooding. It is also one of the few instances of the band engaging in a full-on concept for an album. Whereas mostly they engaged only in sort of general socio-political satire, critique and commentary, here they dedicate all four songs conceptually to the Spanish revolution of 1936. But whether they're for or against is only as clear as your skills in Spanish language allow.
Go-to tracks: They Shall Not Pass, El Tren Blindado
History Is What's Happening
The band's second standalone release already saw a monumental improvement, although still being very much rough around the edges. Their command of the distorted and the angry sound definitely hit a higher peak than this album's predecessor, but that does not mean that the album doesn't suffer from the overly dizzying and messy execution. Sure, such execution was intentional, but its harshness and inherently hostile nature makes it hard to get through.
Go-to tracks: Barricades, Watch Dogs, Equals Only, 148
Dizzy is exactly the correct word. This is one of the most sonically tiring, production-wise deafening and musically dizzying albums the Ex have ever met. The album is fairly in-your-face, in spite of how crude it sounds. The band's instrumental craziness is at its peak here. This album wastes no time with gently leading you into its insanity and rather focuses on dreading out each track into its absolute artistic limits in the most headache-inducing manner possible (in a good way, if that's possible).
Go-to tracks: Nobodies' Dream, Walt's Dizzyland, Burnsome, Little Atlas Heavyweight
This was the milestone for the band (not necessarily quality-wise, but artistically indeed). With this album, they officially started to experiment with their sound. Up until now, all of their records have been straightforward Punk harshness (and an obscure purely Noise oddity), but from Tumult onward, the band went full of creative. Sure, from afar this seems like a rather standard album with little to no deviation from the boundaries of the genre they so obviously soaked into, that being Post-Punk-infused Noise Punk, instead of the previous traditional raw Punk. But that exact change is what indicated their growth. It's not a perfect album, but it was the first to actually move past the typical gutwrenching attitudes of its predecessors and focus on more genre mixtures and sound shifts.
Go-to tracks: Fear, Red Muzak, Squat!, Island Race
'Completely nuts' is how you could describe this EP. In just 7 brief tracks the Ex deliver some of their most headscratching music to date. And while they tried something similar in the past (and after too), the shorter format and the focused songwriting finesse together with the sharpness of the instrumentation make this a worthwhile listen, far superior to most other similar releases of theirs.
Go-to tracks: Dead Fish, Blah Blah, Mousetrap, Get Your Share
This is the very first instance of the Ex combining their initial purely Noise sound with their later found neck for experimental songwriting. It's dismal, but you wouldn't expect anything less from the band. It's raw, but that comes with the territory. It's bleak, but that's just the style of it all. There is a sense of sophistication on here, something the band has always had a habit of avoiding as much as possible. It flows maturely. Its ideologically charged lyrics seem a little more focused, rather than have overtly general themes with no concrete aim or end-goal, although that trait doesn't miss this album either (the Ex being the Ex, aye?).
Go-to tracks: Nurse, Soviet Threat, Mmm Crisis, White Liberals
Too Many Cowboys
An interesting precedent in the Ex's discography, this record was recorded live, but is not a regular live album. There are mostly original songs in the mix that never had or will have a studio version (actually some of them were reworked on a Throw Well, Throw Shell! and Everything... We Never Wanted compilations, but whatever). But one of the distinguishable traits of the Ex's work is their ability to shift their sound. This sounds just like a regular Ex offering, live recording or not. There is no indication that it is indeed absolutely different from everything else, because of the band's inherently perspective-shifting sound.
Go-to tracks: White Shirts, Adversity, Knock, Butter or Bombs, Business as Usual, Olympigs, No Fear
|9||Getatchew Mekurya, The Ex and Guests|
When talking about the Ex, people often omit mentioning the band's increasing interest in Jazz, avant-garde genres and deep African influences. They've had 6 trips to Ethiopia at this point, all in order to record new material. They've teamed up with the master Getatchew Mekuria and the result is the most un-Ex-like moment in their career. The magnetic saxophone sections clash with the rattling sounds of the Ex and create a slightly bipolar environment. It is a strange album that isn't entirely sure, whether it wants to be the Ex with saxophone or a Jazz record featuring the Ex. Still, there is a tonne of enjoyment to be had.
Go-to tracks: Ethiopia hagere, Sethed seketelat, Eywat setenafegagn, Aynamaye nesh, Almaz yeharerwa
|8||The Ex & Brass Unbound|
Teaming up with horn-section extraordinaires of Brass Unbound gave the Ex's usual wacky and angry aesthetic a little more structure. Without all of those saxophones, horns, trumpets and trombones, the songs would have felt a tad empty and maybe more like the usual early works of the Ex, but with their addition it suddenly sounds way more layered, musically rich and elegantly provocative. It's a fun little album with some colourfully striking instrumental passages.
Go-to tracks: Last Famous Words, Our Leaky Homes, Bicycle Illusion, Theme From Konono No. 2
Even artists as persistently experimental and stubbornly underground as the Ex have their ambitious moments. Sure enough, as the tradition of underground scene goes, this never actually broke out, but it is their most cohesive, straightforward and linear musical concept-wise. A two-disc multi-style tirade of humanitarian messages with some of the clearest production on the Ex album ever, there is little to no doubt that the band wants to shoot big here.
Go-to tracks: Listen to the Painters, 3:45 AM, Huriyet, Confusion Errorist, Henry K
|6||Getatchew Mekurya, The Ex and Guests|
I mentioned Moa Anbessa to be the most u-Ex-like moment in their career, but I was wrong. This is. It is a purely Jazz album in full command of Mekuria's powerful saxophone-work. If you're looking for the Ex album with Jazz influences, look further, because this is an entirely Jazz affair that just so happens to feature the Ex. That is also where all the complaints end, because while it is not a Noise/Post-Punk we've grown to love and expect from the Ex, it is still a strong and impressively crafted record full of emotion and passion all of its participants carry. It is also a much more complete project than their previous collaboration with Mekuria was.
Go-to tracks: Ambassel, Yegna Mushera, Aha Gedawo, Abbay Abbay / Yene Ayal, Yegenet Musica
Catch My Shoe
Go on and compare tis to anything they did in the early stages of their career. It's radically different. Their beginnings were extremely rough and hard to get through, their recent material takes that raw and unfiltered anger and aimless frustration and turns it into exquisite forms of Punk art. Their sound got more riveting. It's structured, layered and the songwriting actually seems like it was written and conceived in a creative way, instead of random demo recordings that were expanded upon, although it does try to sound like the latter is the case. It takes their usual anger and turns it into something more focused and musically impressive.
Go-to tracks: Maybe I Was the Pilot, Double Order, Tree Float, Life Whining
Joggers & Smoggers
If anything's evident from going through the Ex's discography, it's that you can't get someone into them by making them listen to a full album. It always has to be a collection of songs. Joggers and Smoggers prove this theory right. Had I not been familiar with the Ex's outstandingly obscure Noisy material before, this album would have seemed like a disorganised, directionless and unlistenable. But knowing that the band's essence always lies in the background and in the detail, I learnt to appreciate such albums. There is a soul in this chaos. It is anywhere near inviting album and it is nowhere near pleasant, but it is all about the beauty behind the wall of noise. It's hard to find, but the charm is there.
Go-to tracks: Pigs and Scales, Invitation To The Dance, Tightly Stretched, Ask the Prisoner, Gentlemen, The Buzzword Medley, Got Everything?, Burst! Crack! Split!, Brickbat, People Who Venture, The State of Freedom, Kachun-K Pschuh, Catkin
The Ex at their melodic high. This album also features all of the band's usual attributes, such as Noisy instrumentation and harsh production. It's as thematically sharp as one would expect a good Ex album to be. But what differentiates this record from the rest is that usually the band strived for a straightforward (as ironic as that sounds) harsh Noise sound. But now there's an actually engaging melodic component underneath all the brutality of their instrumentation. Sure, that melodic side is layered with some seriously disturbed instrumental harshness walls, but once you bite through the said "walls", it's all the more rewarding.
Go-to tracks: Thunderstruck Blues, Embarrassment, House Carpenter, Former Reporter, Hunt Hat
In its essence, Starters Alternators repeats the artistic success of Mudbird Shivers, that is the melodic and compositional finesse in combination with utmost magnetic shivering Noise instrumentation. But while Mudbird Shivers still had some troubles overcoming its inherently rattling ugliness at times, Starters Alternators excels at creating a sort of symbiosis for both the band's trademark instrumentation and their newfound songwriting abilities. There's a hard-to-define beauty hidden inside and there is also a strong sense of fun put into this record, something that hasn't always been a primary focus of Ex's work.
Go-to tracks: Frenzy, Let's Panic Later, Art of Losing, Mother, Lump Sum Insomnia, Nem Úgy Van Most
It'd be silly to try and pick the Ex's 'most underrated album', their entire discography could be classified as underrated. But I suppose a record that is not even in the Sputnik's database, the fullest and most trustworthy database on the internet, you'd call truly underrated. This album doesn't have as high a cult status as Joggers and Smoggers or as wide an appreciation as Scrabbling at the Lock, but it has something none of those albums has: an interesting substance, mixed with great instrumentation and fantastic songwriting. This album is where the band stopped caring about their purely Noisy appeal and actually applied their skill in making obscure music to good songwriting. The music isn't too crass for its own good and in combination with the melodies you actually feel a great deal of musical satisfaction. It's what they have been striving for. It's here.
Go-to tracks: Headache by Numbers, 2.2, Welcome to the Asylum, Shooting-Party, Evolution, A Motorbike in Afrika, Godg...
|"The shrub who took himself for a park|
The squeak who took himself for a bark"
This one goes out to everyone who thought that Half Man Half Biscuit, Tuxedomoon or New Model Army were too popular to partake in an 'unpopular acts' series. Here's for you an actually legendary band.
I also urge you to listen to their 30 Year Anniversary Album that they released back in 2009 and the Singles. Period compilation they put out around that time too. The experiences are quite... different.
State of Shock
Maybe I Was the Pilot
Listen to the Painters
|AAAAAAAAAAAA DISTURBING DOMESTIC PEACE THAT LOW?|
List must've taken you forever, kudos. Still need to check more Ex myself
|I am Mr. Unpredictable!|
|"the Sputnik's database, the fullest and most trustworthy database on the internet"|
Are you getting paid under the table by a mod, give me 20% and I won't tell
|90% of the times i want to rate something it isn't even in the db|
|Man, the reception on these lists is constantly decreasing. Should I make bigger gaps between the episodes?|
|That's every sputnik list series though, don't feel bad|
you should see my sonic youth list. Half the comments are me talking to myself and nobbing boglins
|this is glorious.. i'm going to be checking everything here i don't know by them.. |
decreased reception is because eventually, the lists boil down to only core viewers.. same thing happened with Short Reviews..
|Oh yeah, what ever happened to those, butch?|
|i started writing all the cheeky shite i had to say as Compost.. but now that he's sung his last aria, i may bring short reviews back..|
|you talked crap about Arcade Fire, so no yr not allowed butcher sorry|
|That's a signal, butch, that means you totally need to do it!|
|And it's not even that hard to talk shit about Arcade Fire. Here, let m show you:|
Arcade Fire? I also like to have a small cup of tea with my sugar.
|THIS band aint got SHIT on the XX|
|arcade fire, more like made to expire..|
|Arcade Fire is what you get when you mix the poppy-pussifications of Peter Gabriel with muddy ambitions of Peter Gabriel, but with all the charisma of a broken biscuit.|
Also, I'm gonna listen to In the Fishtank 9 sometime tomorrow. Our tastes vary a lot, so I'm excited
|Don't get your hopes up, bub.|
|If I like my biscuits like I like my music, I should be fine|
|You like your biscuits like you like your music? So moist and spoiled?|
|more bland and unappetizing|
|brittle with a bit of eyecrust = 👍|
|You're a machine Unique, need to try these|