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The Ex - Turn

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Artist: The Ex

Album: Turn

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Nov. 17, 2004

The world’s best punk band returns with its umpteenth album and a new surname-less member, Rozemarie, who plays upright bass. Turn is the Ex’s third record with Steve Albini producing, and it has much in common with the other two, 1998’s Starters Alternators and 2001’s Dizzy Spells. G.W. Sok still delivers political lyrics that are wry and sometimes angry; the guitar playing of Terrie and Andy is still cathartic and just as likely to be based on noisy improv scribbles as pre-composed chords; and drummer Kat still loves the cowbell more than anyone this side of Christopher Walken.

Turn is distinct from its predecessors, however. Its 14 tracks last nearly 90 minutes and often include long, ambling instrumental sections and bits of narration. Most of the songs are mid-tempo and lack the ferocity of the band’s previous efforts, even though the band’s sound is still instantly recognizable. Of all these changes, the Ex’s lack of aggression is the most dearly missed. The group’s career has been full of ambitious experiments (such as the brilliant big band project Ex Orkest from 2001, which sounded like John Philip Sousa’s worst nightmare), so the length of the songs isn’t the problem; rather, it’s their relative lack of intensity.

A different, but probably related, problem is that Rozemarie's playing doesn't fit in well with that of the rest of the group. Unlike her predecessor Luc, whose slashing, propulsive electric bass lines used to be important parts of the Ex Machine, Rozemarie rarely makes a dent – until she solos. These improvised solos are all over Turn – and that’s improvised, not improv, as in the nasty, noisy free improv the Ex has embraced in the past. Rozemarie’s solos are loose, rambling and tonal but not always closely related to the vamps that underpin them – something like what you might expect from a bad jam band guitarist.

These issues are disappointing, especially since Turn features some impressive performances, particularly from Kat - whose mightily multidirectional pan-ethnic drumming remains one of the great shows in rock - and G.W. Sok, whose lyrics probably seem more relevant to the band’s American fans than they ever have. Sok takes on the Bush administration directly in “Listen to the Painters” (“Narrow minds are weapons made for mass destruction”) and “Confusion Errorist” (”You really think that freedom is the one word of a sentence? / Corrupted language is a curse”). He’s not just ranting – the anti-capitalist songs here remind the listener that these Dutch anarchists have spent years posing alternatives to the systems of thought that have allowed Bush to acquire and retain power. After the excellent “Listen to the Painters,” however, the Ex’s songs don’t match the power of Sok’s lyrics.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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