Katrin - drums, vocals
Terrie - guitar
Andy - guitar
Rozemarie - acoustic bass, vocals
G.W. Sok - vocals
1. Listen To The Painters
2. Prism Song
3. Dog Tree
5. The Pie
6. 3:45 AM
7. IP Man
1. Theme From Konono
4. Confusion Errorist
5. The Idunno Law
6. Henry K
7. In The Event
recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, IL
mixed by Mikel Le Roy and The Ex at Studio Le Roy in Amsterdam, Holland
There is an intangible quality that defines truly vital music, something that spans genres and trends and makes itself felt as the sound passes through you. It could be a perfect confluence of notes and timbres or a brilliantly conveyed sentiment, but it could also really be anything. It's not one of those things you can put into effective words-- you just know it when you hear it. And to me, The Ex make vital music.
For 25 years, the Dutch band have nipped at the fringe of post-punk, steering stridently clear of corporate-owned record labels and lighting up the left side of the political spectrum with more than a dozen albums proudly splattered with anarcho-syndicalist and anti-consumerist sentiment. But they're not just shouting about trade unionism, materialist greed, and the inherent contradictions of modern free-market societies; they can bring the noise, too, and their polemics come wrapped in a blistering package of smoldering art-punk informed by free jazz and global folk. On their latest album, Turn, they elevate their craft to near perfection over the course of two wild, unpredictable, and unforgettable discs.
The bulk of the songs that comprise Turn hew to The Ex's peculiar brand of crushing, dense post-punk, but the music can veer on a dime into spoken satire, Eritrean freedom songs, and savage improvisation. Steve Albini returns to the boards for them on this album, and nobody captures The Ex better than he does-- the sound is dry and caustic, allergic to reverb, as heavy as Shellac, and relentlessly intense. The band's setup is extremely basic-- guitar, standup bass, and drums-- but they wring a lot out of it, particularly the bass. The instrument is amplified and then scraped, beaten, sawed, and distorted, alternately used to create an annihilating low-end and to emulate electronic effects or panicked voices. The drums are mixed high for maximum damage and principle vocalist GW Sok-- who doesn't sing so much as rant-- winds up somewhere near the middle of it all, a voice caught in a hellstorm of overdriven guitar, unable to control his surroundings but forced to comment on them through a sense of duty.
Sok runs himself breathless on the brilliant opener "Listen to the Painters", clipping syllables in the mantra "We need poets, we need painters/ We need poets, we need painters/ We need poetry and paintings," and his sense of English wordplay is better than that of a lot of native speakers: "Sheep with crazy leaders/ Heading for disaster/ Courting jesters who take themselves for masters/ The shrub who took himself for a park/ The squeak who took himself for a bark." The churning guitars and daisy cutter bass tears a hole in the crust of the earth from which Sok's frenetic second verse can pour. He takes his wordplay to incredible satirical heights on "The Pie", which opens with a genuinely demented reading of a recipe for sweet potato pie that, as it turns out, is being baked for the purpose of smashing it in the face of authority. Sok piles puns on top of vitriol with the lines "In a world full of poor and an environment to protect/ An alternative flan of action flies in the face of promises not kept/ It shows that the responsible irresponsibles have faces and names which can be addressed/ Therefore bake and aim and put a smile back on the faces of the oppressed" as the band rages beneath him; there is darkness at the heart of this humor.
The band uses the two-disc format to offer the listener a break-- 90 straight minutes of caustic, melody-averse art punk is a lot to take in-- and they intentionally place the album's most violent, punishing, exhilarating track, "Theme from Konono", at the beginning of disc two, right next to "Huriye", which is both a cover of an Eritrean protest song from their fight for independence from Ethiopia and the most beautifully melodic song on the record. "Theme from Konono" is basically a summary of everything the Ex do best, building over the course of several minutes from scratchy guitar interplay into a full-on juggernaut of barreling rhythm. The song piles tension upon tension, building and tightening until it's almost unbearable, finally blowing open with a pounding beat and lockstep guitar riffs and then slowly re-upping the ante. Based on an assault like this, you'd never guess any of these people are over 40.
About the only bands from punk's original era that are still as bracing and original as The Ex are Wire and The Fall. What's truly amazing about Turn is how colossal, how ingenious, how vital it sounds. Just about any of the current post-punk crop sound downright milquetoast when put up against The Ex's vibrant assault and well-considered commentary. On "Listen to the Painters", The Ex remind us of the need for poets and painters and builders and dancers and writers-- by the end of the album, it's clear we need The Ex, too.
-Joe Tangari, November 18th, 2004, Pitchfork Media