I’m raking leaves. It’s a sunny day on some Virginia hill lit up like an old Thomas Cole painting, last week on my Appalachia service trip. Mountains are in the distance, wild blue skies abound and everything. Out of the corner of my eye, I see this handsome 30-year-old dude just strollin’ on up to me — one with nature in his flannel and worn jeans. As he gets closer, I realize he looks very familiar — too familiar. Then it dawns on me … it’s me from the Future.
Me from the Future is smiling, pretty normal and holding a pair of headphones, even more normal. He holds out the headphones and says, “I sound tracked this moment for you. I always knew the first thing I would do when a time machine became available was go back to when I really wanted to be listening to music and soundtrack the moment by giving you some great tunes. This album has already been released in your time, so there won’t be any creation paradox. Cheers, man. Life is great!” And then Me takes off, leaving my present self with some tunes of an unknown nature and awesomeness.
Pushing aside the nagging thought that my future self is underutilizing the time machine, I put on the totally rad headphones from the future and start up the tunes. I’m expecting something epic, something that would fill the Appalachian mountain air with sentiments of aching love and existential crises. But instead, I get Ex Hex.
They take no time in grinding their guitar licks into the recesses of my mind, slamming my foot tap-a-tap-tapping on the ground and shouting that they don’t want to lose my love. Though my heart is in the mountains, my body is in the action of raking leaves. It’s an action that literally involves rocking back and forth in a repetitive fashion, an action that acts as a throw-back to angsty teenage autumn chores at the homestead. For that reason, my future self sound-tracked my Appalachian adventure not with swelling emotional anthems, but driving rock with no regrets. It is, in all manners, perfect.
It’s now that a great existential musical question enters my mind: can our straightforward rock records ever match the larger-than-life records of artists like Radiohead and Pink Floyd? For years, I have thought the answer was a solid no. “Kid A” was art where something like “Revolver” was just really good music. But a record like “Rips” — the new Ex Hex record my future self delivered to my ears — really opened my eyes to a fact that most music lovers have known for ages: rock music is art, just one that derives its magic from a different source than the aforementioned groups. The tight arrangements, immaculate performance, killer hooks and passionate lyrics all add up to something truly impressive when rock music is done right.
On “Rips,” the boundary that separates many modern listeners, like myself, from truly appreciating older music — lower-quality production and recording equipment — is a nonfactor. It’s a record that makes the case that rock music is far from dead, that all you need for a great record is great songwriter and renewed energy. Ex Hex, with a trio of practiced artists, deft lyricism and 10-some hooks per song, has made an incredible rock album that transcends any generational boundary. Despite being rooted in rock throughout the last six decades and boasting a modern production style, it already feels timeless. I guess my future self knew what he was doing the entire time.