Not Local Love: The Ex-Optimists
The Ex-Optimists, Photo: Whitney Lee
I don’t know if it gets conveyed much, but what I’ve noticed at festivals, when people purchase physical copies of albums, and when people gravitate to live performances, rock music is still very much alive. The record industry keeps claiming that this isn’t so, but from what I see, the genre is still going strong. When it comes to Bryan, Texas’ The Ex-Optimists, that sentiment definitely rings true. On their new album “Phantom Freight,” the four piece stretches their musical legs and takes things further than on their previous releases without steering the ship too far off of course. What you’re left with is a collection of seven jammy tunes that will keep you company throughout the cold Winter nights.
The opening track “True Evil” takes until about the eight minute mark to remind you that this is inherently a rock band. The indie rockers take your ears on a journey for those first moments where they add shoegaze, Britpop, and psych elements to their signature sound. The rest of the track contains those elements as well, hopping on and off while the band brings their fuzz pedal sounds to life. The multiple guitar tracks utilized add a component that really shines while showing a growth and depth to the indie rockers. They follow that up with jangly guitar heavy tune, “Husbands.” The almost Lemonheads vibe of it lends to a more sing songy feel, that could make even the most straight edge kid bop his head along to the catchy song. There are elements of the song that feel like if Dinosaur Jr, Evan Dando, and a band from the Burger Records catalog had a baby, this would be it.
The band returns to form on the jammy “Don’t Let Go,” where the hook heavy sound that the band has become known for finds its way onto the track from the opening riff. The song really reminded me of something from Husker Du at the end of their run. Pop heavy hooks, catchy lyrics, and a fuzzy guitar with snappy drums are all over this track, making it one of the standouts on the release. The band keeps the hooks in tact on the slower sound of the fourth song, “Rising Star,” without boring the listener. There are parts of the song that reminded me of indie rockers Seam with the beautiful structure of how the guitars sway through each note, while the bass and drums really form a world that keeps the song on its heels alongside a winding and slippery solo.
Around the fifth track, the riff heavy slayer “Whoop Stop,” you should feel like this band is at the top of their game. Another standout on the album, the song mixes those fuzzy Husker Du hooks with the more adult nature of a more recent Bob Mould song. The way in which this band mixes multiple hooks with pop melodies without coming off soft, is pretty damn magical. They follow this with a trippy and distortion heavy cover of the Nirvana classic, “Something In The Way.” While it’s a nice addition to the album, the original songs are what capture my attention, as they feel better than interpreting someone else’s work.
Things are closed off by another show stopper on “The Last KISS Cover Band Show.” Like something from Guided By Voices, the song reels you in, grabs your attention, and then ends before you can get too involved with it. All in all the album is the band’s best to date, keeping their core sound intact while exploring new techniques and soundscapes with ease. You can grab your own copy of “Phantom Freight” now through the band’s bandcamp, or pick up your own copy tonight when the band plays their album release party at Rudyard’s. The 21 & up show will feature a headlining set from The Ex-Optimists, with sets from A Sundae Drive, Jealous Creatures, and Austin’s Economy Island. The doors are at 8:00 and it’s 100% FREE.