Having any connection to indie rock over the last 25 years there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across the works of Mary Timony. From her groundbreaking work with Helium in the ‘90s to solo records that pushed the boundaries of guitar pop, the short-lived supergroup Wild Flag and now her excellent stint in power pop pummels Ex Hex – if you haven’t heard something from that resume, then you damn well should get listening. As Ex Hex embark on their second album Timony sent over a contribution to the Hidden Gems series, taking a look at an album she sees as woefully overlooked by the majority of the listening public. She chose an album close to her musically, the solo album by fellow Helium (and Polvo) member Ash Bowie as Libraness. Check out Mary’s assessment of the album and how it has affected her own writing and playing.
As Timony expands on Yesterday and Tomorrow’s Shells she notes, “Listening to this record is like being able to hear someone’s imagination. It’s a record of Tascam cassette 4-track recordings from the ’90s that Ash Bowie made when he was in Polvo (and in Helium with me). I think these songs were really his own style and quieter, so they didn’t become Polvo songs. Ash’s musical ideas are totally singular, and always so interesting and powerful. The way he plays guitar is like no one else. It’s almost like he came from outer space or back from the future from a more advanced society. There are some people who have good ideas on guitar, but Ash’s good ideas are like 100 times better than those people’s. He’s a genius.”
Digging deeper, she notes, “There are songs on this record that are just absolute precious gems of beauty. “No Separation,” “You Are My Foreign Film,” and “Richard Petty” are my top tracks. I also like that some songs on the record are just lo-fi, noisy, and recorded so junky that they are almost unlistenable. He’s not afraid to take risks. This record is like if Prince, Stravinsky, Kafka, Moon Dog, the Boredoms, and Thelonious Monk all decided to inhabit one body and mind, write pop songs, and then record them super lo-fi with Radio Shack microphones on a cassette 4-track in the garage. I dunno, it’s brilliant.”
As to how the album has impacted her own writing, Timony muses, “I love that Ash used instruments that weren’t hip in the aggro indie world in the ’90s: a dulcimer, a banjo, a Middle Eastern horn, a recorder, toy piano… Ash is probably the biggest musical influence on me. I learned so much from him, the biggest lesson being to never be satisfied with ideas that are derivative or just ok. He was always way ahead of everyone without even trying that hard. When Yesterday and Tomorrow’s Shells came out, he didn’t tour or do much to promote it. Not that many people heard it, and that’s why it’s a hidden gem. I feel lucky that it exists in the world.”
The album was put out on the short-lived, but bright-burning Tigerstyle Records, which means that the LP itself is no longer in print. That’s not to say that a copy can’t be had on the cheap from Discogs or that stockpiles of CDs and digital aren’t options. The album is a great example of eclectic guitar innovation and, as Mary notes, one well worth checking into. Speaking of musical necessities, Ex Hex’ new LP It’s Real is out on March 22nd on Merge.
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