Before she joined Carrie Brownstein in the technicolor whirlpool that was Wild Flag, Mary Timony wrote one of the most important ‘90s alt-rock records you might not have heard yet. Helium’s The Dirt of Luck, released on a young Matador in 1995, pirouetted away from grunge with a machine gun rally of loose, dirty hooks. “Pat’s Trick” and “Superball” play out like candy you eat despite the grit caught in the wrapper because it just tastes that sweet. Timony’s lead vocals supplied a human entry point to the band’s twisted, synth-equipped guitar melodies; Helium were from Boston like the Pixies, and the DNA of those alt-rock godfathers ran thick in their cells.
Almost 20 years later, Timony fronts a new act, named after the 2005 album she put out under her own name. Unlike Helium, Wild Flag or her solo work, Ex Hex plays straight-up, hot-blooded punk rock, with Laura Harris and Betsy Wright joining Timony as she weaves through her short-form hooks. Rips, the trio’s debut, has absolutely zero interest in reinventing any wheels. It is big, throaty punk through and through, giving Timony the chance to throw out the old-fashioned hollers that her more idiosyncratic work didn’t have room for.
Rips’ charms come not in the shapes of its songs, which should feel almost pathologically familiar to anyone who ever rocked a spiked leather wristband in high school, but in the colors that fill them. Timony’s voice, which has historically tended toward something between a leer and a whisper, rings out in a warm, full timbre. “There was nowhere to go/ When the cops shut down our rainbow,” she sings, supported by a good old-fashioned “yeah, yeah, yeah!” from her two bandmates. Her knack for gently surrealistic lyrics hasn’t gone anywhere, and hearing them fit inside such staunchly traditional songs is a nice surprise. Her guitar sounds great, too; its tone might be a museum piece, but its richness never scrapes the sour edges of any of Punk 1.0’s thinner descendants.
As an exercise in punk for punk’s sake, Rips does exactly what its title promises. It’s a slim volume to add to the Timony collection—never ambitious but absolutely fun, a record from three women who feel comfortable with each other and just want to play loud. And looking over her catalog, Mary Timony has definitely earned herself a breather from innovation.