Beats On Repeat: review of Ex-Cult’s self-titled album

by Francis Nayan

photo courtesy oh it’s amanda

In the midst of the humid summer days in Memphis, Tenn., I tried to keep myself entertained with the occasional local live show instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting for my 21st birthday. In my weekly routine of visiting famous record store, Goner Records, I fell upon what would become my musical obsession for the next few months. Stepping into the store, I walked in on Memphis-based turned west-coast-expats punk band, Ex-Cult, performing a matinee show to promote its debut self-titled album. I was immediately taken with the energy of the group, which is mostly composed of students from the Memphis College of Art.

Without any hesitation, I bought the record and it took my summer by storm.

The Memphians’ sound is tough but not dangerous, powerful but not brutal, with attention-grabbing riffs layered throughout the dozen songs: the guitar chimes that open the album, the raunchy guitars on “M.P.D.” that are akin to R&B saxophone, the co-ed shouting in “Young Trash,” and the energetic moodiness in
“Post Graduate.”

There is plenty of mid-south grit on “Shade of Red” and “Young Trash” to complement Ex-Cult’s occasional bursts of west coast melodicism, which was probably influenced by San Fran Garage rocker Ty Segall, who took the group under his wing after discovering them at the South by Southwest festival in 2011. In their hard-driving style, Ex-Cult doesn’t show much effort to let the sounds of the mid south and the west coast sink together. It’s nearly too powerful and intense for its own good, with frantic punk riff one after the other. But the twin guitars, courtesy of J.B. Horrell and Alec McIntyre, find a way to make it work without making every song sound alike. Frontman Chris Shaw, shows a charisma and energy that may remind some of punk legend Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.

Taking cues from the psychedelic noise of the 1960s, the art-damaged post-punk of the late 1970s, and the aggression and immediacy of early 1980s U.S. hardcore, Ex-Cult has curated a sound that audiences nationwide find accessible, yet not quite like anything else they’ve heard. \Ultimately, Ex-Cult gives the impression of a band more comfortable on stage than off; it has a great sense of punk’s past, but it’s still getting a grip on
its present.

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