You’re in some dimly lit dive, wearing your finest faded denim and drinking beer from cans. What are you listening to? You might be listening to Ex-Cult, whose self-titled debut album weaves together raw energy and tight control.
Opener “Knives On Both Sides” is a driving force that invites listeners straight into whatever dingy basement the band is holed up in. For an introduction, it’s an assertive one, though they save up their full thrashing potential for tracks like “Post Graduate” and “Cemetery Secretary” later on in the album.
The quintet is from Memphis but decamped to the West Coast to record the album with Ty Segall in San Francisco. The influence of the California sunshine is easily heard as “Shade Of Red” emerges into the daylight, uncoiling and twisting in on itself. Though Ex-Cult’s Tennessee roots are strong—before signing to Goner, the band also put out a single on the DIY label Nashville’s Dead—the South doesn’t seem particularly evident in the snarl. It’s San Francisco that seems to have left its mark on the record. “That place is like a dream world,” vocalist Chris Shaw told Spin, and the sentiment is evident in the loose opening riff to “Better Life Through Chemistry.”
Production-wise, the fuzz is out in full force. Shaw’s bratty vocals stay drenched in reverb, and the guitars stay crunchy throughout the album, though Ex-Cult possess an angularity and attention to structure that can’t be drowned out. “On Film” is one of the diversions from the two-and-a-half-minutes-or-less punk playbook, and it’s a highlight of the record, with an insistent bassline and a tempo that pushes and pulls but never lets up.
Ex-Cult is a force to be reckoned with, a powerhouse outfit that might just have more potential than it’s already letting on. Let’s shred.