by Brian Manley
Hovering over more than 25 albums and a 40-year career is an impressive landmark for bands of rock and pop-related genres and for some, enjoying continued relevancy can be a challenge. Fortunately for the The Ex, none of that matters. While aged and bloated classic rock bands aren’t required to release anything that makes new strides, but rather just marketable product that allows them to still exist, The Ex have eschewed any attempts to exist in confines of the biz, and rather rail and pound in their own world of passionate rage, intelligence, and understanding of the discarded and dispossessed.
The Ex are survivors dating back to 1979, qualifying as Dutch pioneers from the initial punk boom and leading passed it through No-Wave, embracing further experimentation with sounds and message. Like their peers Crass, The Ex engaged the DIY clutch, freeing them from any ceilings limiting creativity. This band has not only never actually taken a break, but has embraced experimentation through the consistent incorporation of sounds from other cultures and collaborations with a varied mess of musicians, leading them to blend free jazz and various folk music from around the world into their fold of harsh political soundscapes.
27 Passports is the first “regular” full-length the band has released since 2010’s Catch My Shoe, filling that eight year gap with seven-inches and a series of musical exchanges with Ethiopian musicians. The lineup has barely fluctuated – original guitarist Terrie Hessels and percussionist-singer Katherina Bornefield anchoring the band to its 70s-80s roots, with guitarist Andy Moor still flailing since 1990. Arnold de Boer replaced founder/vocalist G. W. Sok in 2009, and has filled that role since.
A slight shiver of anxious anticipation can accompany the first listen of a band that has spewed political and societal critique with a fanged ferocity for decades; while age and maturity are corkscrews to be cherished, comparing the bite of a young Talking Heads song to the reserved puddle of 21st century David Byrne can leave a fan gasping for caffeine. But more in the vein of the late Mark E. Smith, The Ex bring age and experience into the experimentation, and their barks at capitalism and humanity are still powerful.
These songs wrap the listener within the disjointed riffs and Bornefield’s unpredictable rhythms that the band has been creating so well for years, driving with the sounds of frustration and moody shake that reawakens even moments from albums like 1985’s Pokkeherrie. “This Car is My Guest” showcases de Boer’s dissonant vocal lines over a drive of plunging guitar. “New Blank Document” plays with that odd and off timing, becoming a march of spasmodic walks, with the strings acting like both a down-stroked pummel and a muted plucked harp simultaneously until a robotic trance of verses settle into a pulpy discordant blast.
The anger and energy are still there. Bornefield takes the lead vocals on “Silent Waste” in a knotted krautrock trail of simple truths. “Piecemeal”’s angular guitar and the build to an onslaught of both and chunky jangly noise in “Birth” give hope for listeners needing something commenting on a world that can seem marred. “The Sitting Chains” lays in even heavier with a punk snarl, and “Four Billion Tulip Bulbs” is a parade of ratcheted energy.
At a time when it seems chaos currently reigns, hearing The Ex return and still provide critical comment framed by music that is not only interesting, but still challenging, heavy, sometimes unsettling, and at times even vicious, is heartening and impressively therapeutic.