The Ex: Singles. Period.: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990

The Ex: Singles. Period.: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990

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The Ex

Album: Singles. Period.: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990
Label: Touch & Go

The Ex's Singles. Period. practically screams "For Fans Only." The legendary Dutch anarchists formed in 1979 as a sloppy punk band, but eventually grew more experimental. That occurred mostly after the 10-year span of this compilation, which instead gives listeners more than a healthy dose of the group's earliest material. Enchanted by punk's anyone-can-do-this principles, The Ex substituted ideology for musical ability: "The singles we released were never intended to enter the ugly World of Pop and its pitiful hit parades," the liner notes say. "On the contrary, we considered them pamphlets, statements, political comments." Bands often justify their lackluster music that way, and The Ex's early material reflected that.

So-called "classic" albums often rely on context for their greatness, as if what sounds unremarkable now sounded revolutionary in its day. The Ex's fans consider "Stupid Americans" a classic song, but the band's haphazard playing all but derails it, along with "Curtains" and "Crap-Rap." However, The Ex pushed punk-rock's boundaries even on its first 7-inch, "All Corpses Smell The Same." A growling, repetitive bassline (panned to the left speaker) propels "Cells," while the tinny guitar (panned to the right) plays two poppy, Clash-like chords. The two sides sound disjointed—at least the drums kind of unite them—but the song shows The Ex deconstructing punk's elements early in its lifespan.

The Ex began its experiments with 1983's Gonna Rob The Spermbank single. Two of its four songs use a booming drum machine (a predecessor sound to Big Black), noisy, stuttering guitars, and other sounds to create a surprisingly compelling pastiche. They also lay the groundwork for the industrial sound the band embraced later on "Rara Rap." "Stonestampers Song" basically closes out the album, even though two tracks follow it (one a cover, the other a strange German short story set to music). It's actually recorded well (unlike the rest of the singles), and The Ex plays confidently. The ominous, thundering bass and noisy guitar repeat the same short musical phrase, and G.W. Sok's vocals, "Rack pickapack pickapack tack-tack" are even downright catchy. In spite of such occasional shining moments, Singles. Period. has limited appeal for anyone other than longtime fans. While The Ex certainly made strides from 1980 to 1990, a chronicle of that growth doesn't necessarily invite repeated listening.