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Ex Models - Zoo Psychology

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Artist: Ex Models

Album: Zoo Psychology

Label: French Kiss

Review date: Jul. 7, 2003

Manic Compression

One thread of the history of punk rock is the history of compression. Mainstream rock music in the mid-‘70’s was gorged on synthesizers, guitar solos, and self-important “experimentation.” Jazz and classical influences were seen as the future of rock. Then punk trimmed out the excessive instruments, sped everything up, and reduced the endless lyrical extrapolation to simple slogans. It essentially compressed rock music to the bare necessities. Then when punk was brought into the mainstream, it was rechristened “new wave,” one of the most laughably nondescript genre names ever to fall from the lips of the music business bigwigs. A cynic would see this as a recognition of the oscillation of musical tastes from one extreme to the other, self-indulgence to austerity, from generation to generation.

Which currently puts us in the middle of the “new new new new new new new wave,” riding the slope downwards from the crest of overblown nu-metal and sappy pop to “the return of rock” valley. By the time this review goes to press, I’m sure we’ll be climbing back up again, breaking out the samplers, string quartets, and spoken-word breakdowns. But Ex Models seem to have missed this curve. This New York band, comprised of Shah and Shahin on guitars, Mikhail on bass, and Jake on drums, has followed the compression slope to a new depth, essentially dismissing with melody for the sake of pure rhythm. For while the original wave of punk focused on compressing rock, Ex Models have set their sights on compressing funk.

This is kind of a scary idea. One would compress funk by drastically cutting the song times and speeding up the tempo. This would turn the groove into a spastic thrash and cut things off just when they’re getting warmed up, essentially taking the sex out of funk. At this point, warning sirens should be going off in your head. But don’t worry, Ex Models are no puritans, they have no intention of getting rid of the sex in their music. It’s just that they don’t have the time for languid, sensual sex; they’re all about frenzied, anonymous sex in the club’s bathroom. Hot!

The word for Ex Models’ sound is “clean.” There is no excess here. The guitars on Zoo Psychology don’t sound like guitars. They are easiest to describe visually, as sound blocks rather than sound waves. The way the dual guitar parts interlock is remarkable, rarely overlapping but instead alternating, finishing each others’ thoughts like an old married couple. And guess what, guitarists Shah and Shahin are brothers, so maybe blood does have something to do with the wordless communication going on here.

Ex Models also mix in elements of no wave, which makes them the “new wave of no wave,” I suppose. It’s a much more traditionally “rock” version of no wave than the one presented by No New York, with a focus on steady rhythm and the occasional lapse into catchiness. A good half of the songs collapse into torrential noise; in fact, one of their favorite tricks is to suddenly shift into all-out chaos, then lock back into the beat like nothing unusual has happened.

Ex Models are not without their predecessors. Devo is an obvious influence, especially on the yelping vocals, and the Stickmen were doing the whole manic funk-punk thing twenty years ago. But the difference here is the aforementioned economy of sound. There are no unnecessary instruments, no breath wasted on useless words, and only a couple of songs longer than two minutes. Ex Models are not afraid of the gaps created by their minimal approach; they use the silence to contrast the unholy racket they can make.

By Nick Ammerman

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