The Ex - 27 Passports LP
Atop the "info" page of The Ex's website sits a deceptively simple credo: "Forward In All Directions!" Expansive, yet direct; not so much a command as an invitation, or a challenge; reflecting a radical openness to change and the new: there could be no more perfect summation of The Ex's modus vivendi, or of the effect they have had on listeners and audiences worldwide for nearly 40 years.
Following 2010's Catch My Shoe and collaborations with Getatchew Mekuria and Brass Unbound, 27 Passports is The Ex's second full-length with guitarist and vocalist Arnold de Boer, who in 2009 joined the band following the departure, after three decades, of co-founder and frontman GW Sok. It's an album that faithfully captures the mind-altering experience of The Ex in concert. Live, they are a band in constant motion, a tactile frenzy anchored by Kat Bornefeld's supple polyrhythmic churn. De Boer, Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor wield guitars aslant and malleable: they spin out spiderweb melodies, or channel the metallic peal of the electrified kalimba – a nod to the considerable time The Ex have spent performing in Central and West Africa – or gather the heft and density of storm systems. Ex guitars are a bracing thing, and in one sense their redoubled heaviness is the result of nothing so much as adaptation, adjustment to circumstance: absent a regular bass player since 2004's Turn, Moor plays a jury-rigged baritone guitar, low-end rumble tussling with rough-hewn chords to overwhelming effect.
Lyrically, de Boer delivers both continuity and contrast with Sok's trenchant anarcho-absurdism. His voice is wry and mistrustful, yet playful and free of cynicism, a sing-shout vocal chronicling the invasive, co-opting logic of capital and power, the treacherous physicality– but also transformative power – of everyday language, the monotony of labor and the lingering traces of histories long thought dormant, ready to erupt.
Fundamentally, 27 Passports is an album – and The Ex are a band – about endurance, care and regeneration, about spaces and ideas that have yet to be bought off or bludgeoned, and that might yet be salvaged. Rounding the corner on their fourth decade in existence, there is no band better suited than The Ex to guiding us through these sorrowful, compromised days. Long live The Ex.