Midnight Passenger

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Ex-Cult sounded more than promising on their self-titled debut album in 2012, but they really get down to business on their second full-length, 2014's Midnight Passenger, which is leaner, fiercer, and decisively to the point. The first album occasionally reflected the obsessions of producer and mentor Ty Segall as much as Ex-Cult themselves, but with Doug Easley behind the recording console, Midnight Passenger sounds clearer and more forceful without watering down this band's rich variety of ingredients: the emphatic bark of Chris Shaw's vocals, the fuzzy collision of punk, garage, and psychedelia in J.B. Horrell and Alec McIntyre's guitars, the insistent throb of Natalie Hoffmann's bass, and the expressive but precise drumming of Michael Peery. Ex-Cult wander through a foggy haze of noise and reverb on tracks like "Catholic Entries" and the title cut, but for the most part Midnight Passenger sounds cleaner and more direct than the first LP, and the band's attack seems more purposeful and less filtered; Shaw's vocals certainly sound and feel more powerful, and given Ex-Cult's mildly lysergic drift when they shift into fourth gear, he helps keep these songs anchored, though "Confusion Hill" shows this group can go off in search of space and still connect with the listener. And another year of recording and performing experience has done Ex-Cult plenty of favors; without robbing themselves of their signature sound, Midnight Passenger demonstrates they can hit harder and dig deeper now than they could when they first made an album. If Ex-Cult suggested they were one of the best new punk bands in Memphis, Midnight Passenger demonstrates they've moved a few notches up the ladder, and this is must for anyone who's been following the Bluff City's fertile garage punk scene.

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