Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Ex - 'Tumult' (Fist Puppet)

My dalliance with The Ex begins in 1983, with this first step away from the straight Crassisms of Disturbing Domestic Peace and towards the discordant, improv-based experimentalism that would occupy their next 30 years of existence. It begins with 'Bouquet of Barbed Wire', with long guitar drones and slow, throbbing drumming over which G.W. Sok intones his invective; here, as on much of the record, it's an observation about fear in society. He sounds almost bored as he chants, but he's just getting revved up, and over the next 50 or so minutes, the Ex pluck, plod and pound away at the shell of capitalism. Boredom might be a theme of the record, despite being called Tumult -- 'Happy Thoughts' is drenched in ennui, with hints of drum programming (!) following Sok's distant 'Wait for the big bang' repetition; is this depression following oppression? Martial law is invoked on the next track, 'The Well-Known Soldier', but I've always found the Ex's political strides slightly compromised by the fact that they come from Holland. As oppressive as they may find all governments to be, they're coming from one of the most progressive places in the world, where punk rock bands can be supported by the state and squats are everywhere. That's not to say I'm calling bullshit on The Ex, but that they are a often a testament to the truth that things can always be better. Throughout Tumult, the band is happy to fall back into fast 'n furious punk at times, such as 'Red Muzak', and any sort of melodic, anthemic qualities are avoided in favour of the shouted polemic and monotonous rhythm. Their interest in Ethiopian jazz and their dalliances with Han Bennink are a long way away, but will come with time. The cover art boasts a red warrior, faceless as part of the proletariat, bending the bars of a prison, but I think the red and black, the pure leftie outlook, is already about to evolve. Some gems litter Tumult, but the Ex are never a band great at self-editing, and 53 minutes is pretty long (especially knowing I have a few more Ex records ahead). This album came just before a run of brilliant records, from Blueprints for a Blackout through Aural Guerilla and then the genius work with Tom Cora, so it feels like a penultimate glimpse of an open sky, just over the horizon. Mixing metaphors, yes, but Sok's as guilty of this as I am (just check out 'Hunt the Hunters').

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