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The Ex - Singles. Period.

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Artist: The Ex

Album: Singles. Period.

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Sep. 8, 2005

The Ex are one of those rare bands that, despite being around for 25 years, have neither gone soft nor stagnated. The 23 tracks on this album all date from their first decade of existence (1980-1990), and if you compare it with recent milestones like Starter Alternator and Turn, you’ll see that while many of the Ex’s virtues are long standing, much has changed.

The Ex grew out of Amsterdam’s once-fertile squatters’ subculture, and have always been politically conscious; Singles. Period. includes screeds that oppose American cultural hegemony, Dutch apathy, and eugenics. Their most recent album Turn likewise includes protests against globalization, consumerism, and cultural erosion, but its lyrics are quite nuanced and in touch with the grey areas of the issues when compared with the black and white prescription of 1981’s “Weapons For El Salvador”:

“Guerilla-war is not the problem, it’s the bloody solution.
Pacifism is bullshit-talk, destroy the way the fascists walk.
Guerilla-war is not for fun.
The only way to get things done.”

That’s an extreme example, but if you have trouble with bluntly expressed hard-left politics, you might have problems with this record.

The Ex’s recent efforts deliver a foundation-powdering punch, but their sound is also finely detailed. Newer fans might be surprised by the restraint of these nascent performances; the Ex were just kids playing with cheap equipment when they started out, but they had subtlety down from the start. The guitar sounds brittle as flint, the drumming is a primitive bash, and singer G.W. Sok’s voice steps effortlessly in front of the instruments.

But by the time they recorded Weapons For El Salvador, they’d already found their sound; the guitars are more corrosive, the drumming implacable, the bass not so much a pulse as a massive foundational slab of sound, and Sok is shouting to make his sentiments heard. The Ex recorded quite a few songs that sounded just like that during the ’80s, and some of their LPs could be pretty monochrome; since it reduces a decade’s evolution to 60 minutes of music, Singles. Period. is actually more varied than many of those albums. It includes excursions into PiL-like smog-dub (“When Nothing Else”), industrial dance beats (“Rara rap”), and Brechtian theater music (“Lied der Steinklopfer”). The latter was recorded with members of the Dog Faced Hermans (whose guitarist, Andy, the Ex would soon recruit) and features some convincingly skittery improv interludes, a practice the band would explore quite profitably in years to come.

People who already know the Ex’s history may have already done the math and noted that this collection is not complete. The Ex’s last six singles, which were recorded as a series and released over about a year in 1991, do not appear here; the liner notes promise a future reissue. People who don’t know that history, or who simply weren’t around in the ’80s to score these singles, should appreciate this chance to hear a singular ensemble growing into greatness.

By Bill Meyer

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