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23 August 2013

The Ex - 'Joggers & Smoggers' (Ex)

This has always been my favourite Ex album, where they full embraced their avant-garde tendencies and made a huge, sprawling record that's meant as a statement - a statement of purpose, but also a roadmap to future explorations. Some may disagree, as this can also be seen as an inconsistent scattering of sketches and unfinished ideas. Either way, if this isn't a turning point, I don't know what is - it's a 34-track double LP packed with guests from Dutch jazz as well as Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and other such titans. But it also has a textual influence not yet seen, with various other writers contributing ideas (including Kafka, Brecht and Emma Goldman). The opening track announces that this is something different - it's a rumbling, staticky sketch, like something from a soundtrack, resisting the urge to explode in punk fury. And throughout Joggers & Smoggers we find a different, more open Ex. Whether they're accentuating their lineup with instruments yet-unheard of on Ex records, or just letting the songs breathe more, this is a conscious change. The results are stunning - as long as it is, it never gets tiresome and the lyrics seem to reflect this new openness as well. 'People Who Venture', deep on side three, is a nuanced dissection of individuality and systems, and they're printed in the gatefold so they can be enjoyed separately. I hear a lot of Beefheart, whose always been somewhat of a spiritual influence through the herky-jerky root sound, but also in the sprawl. The second side brings in some funky horns, growling voices, and the occasional classic Ex 'song'. The rocking bits move towards the sound of discordant bands like the Fire Engines or Dog Faced Hermans more than Crass; a Scottish influence perhaps? The next full-lengths after this, which I sadly don't own in physical form, are the two collaborations with Tom Cora, seen by many as the high point of the Ex's (and Cora's) career. It's easy to listen to Joggers & Smoggers and declare this as the warmup to a more improvisatory form, but really, the Cora records are tighter and more song-based than even this.

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