THE EXDizzy Spells (Touch and Go)
If I were suddenly appointed Minister of Improving Music, my inaugural act would involve sending shock troops to ransack the CD racks of every would-be cookie-cutter punk in, say, Orange County, replacing all recordings by Social D. and Suicidal T. with copies of Dizzy Spells. No more testosterone polkas, no more pedal-fattened barre chords. Just bass-ackward percussion corps tottering dangerously from tribal to industrial to militaristic; cymbals as unresonant as pie tins; and zero-sustain guitar chatter fighting the good fight against tonality. Then I�d do Florida.
Formed by a cadre of Amsterdam squatters in 1979, with the current lineup stabilizing in �90, The Ex didn�t always inspire such fantasies. Much of their early music was as pleasure-denying as their politics, despite commendable attempts to bridge punk and �free� improv by collaborating with the likes of Han Bennink and the late Tom Cora. Something changed with 1998�s Starters Alternators, which scraped off the artiness in favor of Steve Albini�s lucid, live-oriented anti-production, revealing an idiosyncratic funkiness previous recordings only hinted at. Dizzy Spells doesn�t alter the basic elements, though it�s less uniformly up-tempo and a touch more rhythmically sophisticated than its predecessor. It also doesn�t owe a hell of a lot to rock & roll as we know it, though Gang of Four, Fugazi and non-hippie Sonic Youth are all in the mix.
Main vocalist G.W. Sok�s declamations don�t always make good on the music�s promise of perpetual revolution: His confused humility (�The chair needs paintAnd money�s tight�) rings truer than his agitprop finger-pointing (�Mickey, Walt and Donald . . . wanna swallow all your souls�). But on �Oskar Beck,� drummer Katrin — no last names please, we�re anarchists — floats a haunting description of exile over, wonder of wonders, an actual chord progression. At first it seems disappointingly conventional that the girl sings the quiet one, but she and the band make up for it on �River,� the album�s fiercest barnburner, which explodes with hope and frustration: �I wanna laugh and I wanna loveBut not just love, that�s not enough.� O.C., you�ve been warned.