The Exies -
by Keavin Wiggins
Five Star: A look at albums
that are so good that they impress even the most cynical of critics. Very
few albums are superior enough to obtain a five star rating but occasionally
a band slips through the river of mediocrity that is the modern music industry
and they produce an album that restores our faith in the future of rock!
This series is a look at such albums.
A funny thing happened when I put this
CD in and started playing it. The song was rockin’ along and had reached
the chorus and when the signature line from the chorus repeated for the
first time I found myself signing along, “I don’t believe in you now”.
I don’t remember this ever happening before. Sure I might pick up on a
song and start singing along on the second or third spin but never during
the very first listen. Needless to say, that caught my attention and I
was fearful that this CD was frontloaded with the “single(s)” placed at
the beginning with the rest killing space with filler. But track
after track it just kept getting better and this disc literally hasn’t
left my CD player since.
First thing you need to do is eliminate
any prejudice you might have against bands that use the “the” designation.
While it’s true the lead off track has some of that “raw rock revival”
rawness to it but there is nothing retro about this band. Actually they
take a lot of different modern styles and explore them on the various songs
on this disc. The Vines did a similar thing with their debut “Highly Evolved”
but the difference is The Exies try different directions but they might
suffer the same problem that The Vines experienced once their singles hit
the airwaves; the fact that people will judge them based on those songs
and figure they don’t have anything else to offer. Nothing could be further
from the truth.
Some of the best albums in history have
explored diverse aspects of music with each track finding a different niche
to delve into. It takes a rare band that can pull this off without
making an album sounds disjointed and at the same keeping an overall musical
identity. The Beatles seemed to do this effortlessly and Enuff Z’nuff have
made a career of producing music that explores a variety of musical paths;
effectively kickin out a heavy number then moving on to a heartfelt ballad
only to followed by a middle of the road pop-rocker. The Exies do something
very similar with the exception being that instead of looking to the sixties
for inspiration they seem to have focused on “what worked” over the past
decade or so. On that same note, they also do an outstanding job of divorcing
themselves from what has been “played into the ground” over the past few
years. You’ll find very few drop tuned guitars here or “pop-punk” like
vocals that sound like the singer needs to blow his nose. Most importantly,
rap doesn’t rear its ugly head anywhere on this disc… (ok, there is a Beck
like rap on one song but that doesn’t fall into the Linkin Park/ Limp Bizkit
/ Papa Roach camp either, so it doesn’t count). The end result is an exceptional
album that is more than relevant in the context of modern rock while not
relying on overly used musical cliché’s that are more played out
than reruns of the Brady Bunch.
Matt Serletic’s signature production techniques
are evident through out the disc. The sound is rich and full and the choruses
are geared towards harmonies with hooks that are just asking to be blasted
out of radios nonstop in the year to come. There are some drawbacks
to this approach as early reviews of this disc have shown. To some the
songs may come across as too slick and produced. The songwriting may be
interpreted as too derivative and geared towards radio hits. To the more
cynical and jaded of listeners (and critics) the power-pop flavoring may
be the nails in the coffin for The Exies. On the other hand these things
may the assets that the band uses to win over other people. It worked with
I definitely fit into the ladder camp,
which is part of the reason I gave this disc 5 stars. I too am suspicious
of music that comes across as overly engineered towards radio. However,
I didn’t get that impression with this album as some others have. It’s
true that the music taken in its seperate parts is not overly original
but the originally comes into play in the way that the Exies take those
familiar elements and blend them together. Unlike some critics I
can’t fault a band that has it in them to pen hit after hit after hit.
That’s a trait that most songwriters hunger for and the bottom line is
these songs are enjoyable to listen to. This album really stands out when
stacked up against most recent rock releases that contain maybe a couple
of catchy tunes and a ton of filler. “Inertia” should have a wide appeal
because of the various influences or similar sounding music ranging from
the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, 311, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, The Rembrandts,
PrimeSTH, The Szuters, and even the better elements of Linkin Park.
The diversity of this album really splits
the album into two parts. The first half contains the more rockin’ hard
driving yet melodic tunes while the second half contains the mellower tracks
where the group really shines especially with the title track, “Irreversable,”
and the final track “Genius” which rings in a similar vein to the acoustic
version of the Radiohead classic “Creep” with elements of Tonic at their
mellower moments. “Genius” is a brilliant piece of songwriting with its
simplicity but undeniable appeal.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the
The first track and single “My Goddess”
stands out with its raw intensity set against irresistible hooks; something
that very few modern songwriters can accomplish with the exception of Kurt
Cobain, Craig Nicholls or Donnie Vie.
The second track “Without” is the closest
The Exies come to nu-metal. It’s a rocker with a nu-metal meets industrial
flair that lands somewhere between Orgy and Linkin Park (with Chester’s
vocals not rapper Mike Shinoda).
“Can’t Relate” is the a track where The
Exies flirt with a Vines like raw retro feel but they manage to keep it
mostly in a modern power-pop context. This would be a fun tune to crank
up on a sunny day with the top down.
“Kickout” is similar to Nirvana in its
guitar leads and light verses to lead to intense and powerful choruses.
“No Secrets” opens with some funk overtones
in the vocals and then mixes that sound with hard-edged modern rock. An
old forgotten trick out of the Red Hot Chili Peppers playbook that The
Exies pull off flawlessly. Clocking in at 2:48, the song is over
almost as soon as it starts but effectively closes the harder edged chapter
of this album.
“Inertia” takes The Exies into a totally
new direction of well-crafted pop rock. Like most of the slower songs on
this CD, Serletic’s influence is heard. This has a real Gin Blossom’s feel
to it. If this were the only slow song on the disc it would definitely
stand out but it comes in second when compared to a couple of other slower
tracks, especially the next one.
“Creeper Kamikaze,” two words: simply amazing!
This is one of the best rock ballads that I have heard in years. The vocals
are dripping with emotion and the Serletic’s strings arrangements give
the song an incredible depth as the verses build up to their heavier climax.
This could definitely be a smash hit single if worked properly.
They kick things back up a notch with “Calm
and Collapsed,” a song that has a subtle Smashing Pumpkins meets Nirvana
air to it with a little Orgy thrown into the mix. The raw vocals in the
chorus fall into the Cobain meets Local H territory. The guitars ring out
loud and clear.
“Low-Fi” is the track most hailed by critics
and it definitely has some major appeal but it also is the most diverse
song on this already diverse album. The verses have a early Beck meet 311
feel with the sing-song rapping that Beck used on “Loser” and the choruses
have a hook that won’t quit. Great track plain and simple!
“Irreversable” has a mid-nineties modern
rock ballad feel that has shades of Dishwalla but the choruses are a bit
larger with a full sound and an addictive vocal melody that reaches closer
to the Gin Blossoms or the Rembrandts, but just a tad heavier.
The final track, “Genius” is just that,
a genius little gem. Its haunting vocals are helped immeasurably by the
subtle textures added by the strings arrangement that underlay the song
along with the ambient but persistent percussion.
I’ll wrap this up since this review has
already run longer than usual but that just shows how taken in I am by
this album. My only complaint is that doesn’t last long enough. On the
other hand, clocking in at less than 40 minutes, the eleven tracks accomplish
more in that small amount of time than other bands could only hope to accomplish
if they were given 40 hours to try and win you over.
I realize that some people may be turned
off by the fact that Rolling Stone and MTV are touting this band as the
next big thing and typically I would be weary by that endorsement as well,
but after listening to this album numerous times, I’ve come to the conclusion
that this is one of those rare cases where MTV and RS actually got it right.
Some may disagree with my enthusiasm for this album but to be quite honest
when measured against most of the music that has flooded the scene over
the past few years, I simply couldn’t give this album lower than a five
star rating. It has all the makings of a great album and the reader should
definitely take the time to listen to it and judge for themselves.
For me it’s only January and I already
have a strong contender for one of the best albums of 2003. If this is
a sign of things to come this year, then it promises to be a great year
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