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Produced by Jonah Takagi (who also produced Rips), It’s Real was a more collaborative effort than its predecessor. Mary and Betsy could be found writing late into the night, leaning on Takagi to tighten up arrangements. Egos were surrendered in service to the music: Nothing was sacred or precious, and there was a relentless devotion to both songcraft and exploration. Dozens of guitar amps sat mic-ed in the next room, and the group experimented at a frenzied pace parsing countless combinations of instruments, pedals, and amps. They even dusted off Mary’s old Rockman, a small headphone amp designed by Boston guitarist Tom Scholz in 1982. Mary recounts, “It’s only about the size of a Walkman and takes eight AA batteries, but it sounds massive. We read that parts of [Def Leppard’s] Hysteria were tracked through it, and when we finally plugged it in, it blew our minds!”
The opening track “Tough Enough” is punky and defiant, with stacked backing vocals posing the question “Are you tough enough (to let it go)?” that’s resoundingly answered in the affirmative by a searing, triumphant guitar solo. “Cosmic Cave” is a bittersweet rave-up with shimmering phased guitars, a gooey-candied chorus, and beamed-in “whoa-oh-ohs” that add a touch of melancholia to the frenzied speed-of-sound pace. The ferocious and anthemic “Rainbow Shiner” is what Wright describes as “a victory song.” Her mordacious central riff is coupled with dueling guitar-god solos that explode from the stereo spectrum. The starlit “Another Dimension” has it all: pounding drums, palm-muted humbucking chugs, soaring harmonized vocals, and a stark, ethereal bridge that sends listeners deep into the lush sonic landscape that the band set out to create.
Ex Hex were already one of America’s best guitar bands—but on It’s Real, their musical savvy has thrillingly combined with anything-goes curiosity, studio experimentation, and a dedication to refinement, resulting in an album that’s ready to be played at maximum volume.