Mary Timony's first two solo albums, Mountains and The Golden Dove, had a mystical, fairy-folk bent that was intriguing (and also presaged the popularity of similarly inspired acts like Faun Fables, Joanna Newsom, and White Magic) but also puzzling to fans of her work with Helium and Autoclave. After moving house, both personally (back to her old haunt, Washington, D.C.) and musically (to Lookout! Records), she returns with Ex Hex, a more straightforward but still delicate collection of songs that sound like exorcisms of past situations and relationships. Even though the album is on a label usually associated with punk and shows off Timony's impressive electric guitar skills, it's not as much of a return to rock as might be expected. To be sure, "On the Floor" -- a great kiss-off to a lazy (soon to be ex-) boyfriend -- and "Friend to JC" kick-start Ex Hex with a one-two rock punch, but the dark, electric piano-driven "Silence" is nearly as winding and expansive as anything that appeared on Timony's first two solo albums. Whether she surrounds her voice and melodies with guitar, bass, and drums or more exotic instruments, her approach is still distinctive (and remarkably consistent over her career): "W.O.W." and "Harmony" glide along on the hypnotic, vaguely Eastern-sounding guitar work that has become one of Timony's trademark sounds, while "In the Grass"'s drum machines and layers of acoustic and electric piano recall Magic City's mix of hard-hitting rock and ethereal keyboards. And, as always, her lyrics are formidable: lines like "Return to Pirates"' "You are the universal hate within us all" serve as reminders that it's probably not a good idea to get on Timony's bad side. More often than on some of her recent work, Ex Hex's music matches Timony's barbed words. "9x3" is a fast punchy song that could be about the mean girls in high school (or after graduation, for that matter). "Hard Times Are Hard!" and "Backwards/Forwards" are some of the most straightforward rock songs Timony has ever written, though they're far from predictable. Ex Hex can't really be called a return to form because Timony never lost it in the first place, but it's probably the most immediately appealing album in her solo career for Helium fans who missed that band's bite on her other albums.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares