Rebelling against the man became a played-out cliché that doesn’t inspire any actual action. Pop-punk is the only bearer of the word these days, and that’s just really hyper pop music. Punk, really and truly this time, is on its last legs.
But it’s not totally dead, as long as The Ex is around. Formed in 1979 and performing and releasing continuously since then, the Dutch punk band still seeks to be countercultural in any way possible. On their latest, “Catch My Shoe,” they succeed. Because popular punk songs are fast, melody-laden and short, the band wrote nine long, slow, dissonant tunes that comprise an album that clocks in just short of an hour. They use horns liberally, often as their dissonance creators. In short, this sounds all wrong, weird and unusual.
Which is exactly how punk is supposed to sound.
It helps that, after 20 years in this current incarnation (with the exception of a brand-new lead singer for this release), they really know each other. These songs have an almost palpable chemistry running through them, as the members play off each others’ strengths. The best example of this is the near-seven-minute “Bicycle Illusion,” which skates through on not much more than tom rolls, intermittently strummed rhythm guitar, a low-key guitar melody and roiling bass until the four-minute mark, when it speeds up and gets skronky (they have some jazz background; note the horns). It sounds excellent, but it’s not a song that most bands would be able to pull off. The Ex can, and the album is all the better for it.
The vocalist is solid, too, cranking out the righteous fury without being grating (“Maybe I Was the Pilot,” “Double Order”). The only problem with the album is while each song is fantastic individually, it’s a bit much to take all in one hour-long sitting. The whole album starts to overwhelm the mind a bit around the last two tunes. It’s sad, because “Life Whining,” one of the fastest and most recognizably punk tunes here, is great. But after 40 minutes of grinding, dissonant punk, it’s tough to take it in.
And that’s part of the point. Punk can still be the obnoxious, rebellious, convention-breaking genre it always was. It’s just not the desire of most bands any more, and that’s sad. But The Ex are holding up their end of the deal, and they’ve cranked out brilliant tunes to fit inside their genre-affirming musical statements. An excellent release. —Stephen Carradini