Given the torrent of touring this Memphis bunch logged last year, it’s amazing Ex-Cult had the umph to drag themselves into a studio to whip out this second LP. But they jump right into it with the opener, Shattered Circle, a rusty switchblade of neo-post-punk trash. More burning red rust cuts through Flickering Eyes. This second full-length breathes with a more expansive volume and guitar churn, without resorting to every other current garage band’s habit of just dumping reverb on everything. In fact as this rec moves along, its snaky sprawl sees the band crawling out of its genre garage, like spilled oil and gas seeping into the weeds and cracks in the driveway, making everything a bit more slippery as you approach.
If Chris Shaw’s voice could use some variety in tone here and there, his lazer-eyed indignation is as heated as ever. He does go deserted mansion hallway investigating in Catholic Entries, a gothic rocker that nearly gets lost in those halls. Then in the marauding Midnight Passenger, Shaw growls, “I’m a voice from the sewer. I’m the suicide cruiser,” further making like a gravelly, latter-day Peter Murphy. It feels like there are a number of non-Burger’d garage bands out there groping for the next deeper, darker path out of the beachy and zany 80s t-shirt corner, usually inspired by all the killer Australian art-trash going on undercovered the last few years (call it post-Eddy Current Suppression Ring rock).
When Ex-Cult do lay on some echo (Ties You Up, that title track), it’s a focused act, giving the guitar some variety, not just washing everything in doubt. Venice Illusion has a rhythm like headlights reflecting off the dotted lines on the highway at 3am. The murky Confusion Hill crawls out of the middle of the record as an instrumental detour that further helps this album feel like an unspecific late night journey, like jumping in the car to just drive around after a fight with the increasingly insignificant other. To wit, Sid Visions, in which one can’t really tell if Shaw’s “visions” are a desire to accidentally off his ex-, or if she’s the one with the death wish. Either way, Midnight Passenger is all agitated, post-garage rethinking of pent-up unease that many garage bands have been avoiding for blissful, kitschy head-swaying instead (I’m looking at you west coast, again).