This astonishing post-punk group from Amsterdam formed in 1979, and produced a baffling amount of material on 7", LP, and CD throughout the '80s and '90s. Mudbird Shivers is a fantastic introduction to their varied material, which is high-energy post-punk in a similar vein to Fugazi, Crass, and Shellac. Incidentally, they have toured with the former and have had material produced by Steve Albini. Fitting that this abrasive and pragmatic producer should be hired to capture their energy which is often best witnessed on stage, where spontaneity is at its optimum. That isn't to say that that energy isn't here. To describe their approach, the Ex is a quintet of guitars percussion and vocals -- stylistic references would be Captain Beefheart for all the angular abrasive guitar work and syncopated rhythm, early P.I.L. in that they share the influence of African and Jamaican musics -- but the most striking reference is European traditional and folk, given a post-punk electric shock on this engaging album. Highly political in their lyrical content, the range here covers angular bass and drum rhythms while guitars skate about colliding in squalls of noise like Sonic Youth that surpass the hardest post-punk rockers such as Jesus Lizard or June of 44 in energy. At other moments, folk songs 1are given simple guitar and vocal arrangements that provide relief from the barrage of propulsive noise workouts. These folk songs, such as "The Carpenter," recall British folk revivalists Kevin Coyne and Burt Jansch in some ways, and they may sound unusual when considering that the rest of the album is made up of avant-rock chaos and political diatribe that is far from subdued. Like the Sonic Youth of "Evol," their ambition is to cover a wide range of moods on this album, and similarly allow their syncopated songs to collapse into improvisational string-noise storms -- moments that come as blissful relief from the pummeling syncopation of "Rhet Roper," the lyrics directed at a reporter. Of the Ex collection, this is one of the more accessible recordings; while it is a classic sprawling double set similar to the Crass concept albums, it explores more experimental aspects of the group in different settings. While "The Ex and Guests" is another double set that has the group working with free improvisers in ad hoc settings, here they reach the peak of their aesthetic as they did on the much-loved Scrabbling at the Lock where the late cellist Tom Cora gives their barrage a melodic edge with his folk-inflected cello. Mudbird Shivers is as essential as that album for fans of skewered abrasive post-punk, and it is in keeping with the aesthetic of the Touch and Go label with whom they signed in the '90s.
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