The Ex-Optimists, Phantom Freight

The Ex-Optimists, <i>Phantom Freight</i>

More and more these days, I find myself admiring bravery when it comes to rock music; it’s a whole lot cooler, to me, to do something strange and different than it is to ride the same damn riffs and song structures and whatnot (well, okay, as long as the music itself works, but we’ll get to that).

So I’ve pretty much got to admire the chutzpah it takes to, say, kick off your brand-new album not only with a fifteen-minute-long track, but one that has a full eight minutes of odd, murkily ambient sounds layered together in a drifting haze, including wind chimes, feedback, and what sounds like whale song, with a creepy, creepy interview with a rapist (I think?) woven in beneath.

And yet, that’s exactly what College Station-dwelling indie-rockers The Ex-Optimists decided to do for new album Phantom Freight. And yes, it works, a whole hell of a lot better than you’d expect it would. After those eight minutes of creepy ambience, the band finally erupts into a forceful, driving-yet-still-murky tune that makes me think of fuzzy-edged Britpop at points and EVOL-era Sonic Youth at others, and I’m liking it.

Not that I’m surprised, mind you, because hey, I’ve run into these folks before. Over the past couple of years, The Ex-Ops have steadily grown into one of my favorite bands from pretty much anywhere, in part because of their unabashed love of ’90s indie-rock and dreampop. I’ve been thinking about the band a fair bit lately, actually, because I’ve been on a ’90s-music kick, digging back through my music collection and re-remembering why I liked so much of it. So listening to Phantom Freight right now, my brain’s hitting stuff I haven’t thought about in a good decade now.

For example, there’s “Don’t Let Go,” which is awesomely fuzzed-out and drives along on a great, great, busy-as-hell melody line that pokes its head defiantly out from the middle of the noise, a surprisingly Sebadoh-esque riff in the midst of a tune that makes me think of Mystery Machine or The Miss Alans, two bands I’d forgotten about ’til recently, along with Ride or maybe early Smashing Pumpkins. It’s gorgeous and warm and ear-filling, and I’m loving it.

Then there’s the more straightforwardly raw, rocking “Husbands,” which is indie-rock with a swirling, psych-ish aftertaste to it and where frontman Kelly Minnis’s vocals bring to mind sadly-forgotten ’90s pop hero Matthew Sweet. Or “Whoop Stop,” which comes off like Dinosaur Jr. in the backwoods, or possibly a seriously stoned Buffalo Tom, with a great rootsy tinge to everything. “Rising Star” almost splits the difference between the two, jangly and fuzzy all at once.

Towards the album’s end, there’s “Something In the Way,” a track that’s exactly what you think it is: a rumbling, distorted, slow-crawling cover of the Nirvana classic. I won’t go overboard and say it redefines the original or anything, but it definitely makes me want to listen to the original again, and that’s no bad thing.

The Ex-Optimists finish up with the brief but evocative “The Last KISS Cover Band,” a track that’s like the apocryphal 6-word Hemingway “novel” about the baby shoes — in just a few lines Minnis and company paint a picture of a young music fan who’s finally allowed to see “the Rock and Roll” and spreads the word to all her friends. Musically, it’s a little like Cotton Mather, and I love that the band doesn’t linger on it any longer than they absolutely need to; they get in, they get out, and that’s it.

Looking back, I’m not sure this was quite the Ex-Optimists album I was expecting to get, but it’s one I’m very, very happy to hear. They’ve left behind the tried-and-true rock path ventured further into the woods, back to where it’s more wild and dense and, yeah, maybe a little bit more dangerous, too. Whatever new road they carve through the wilderness, it’s bound to be a beautiful, wonderful trip.

(Feature photo by Ismail Quintanilla III.)

[The Ex-Optimists play their album release show 12/4/15 at Rudyard’s, along with A Sundae Drive, Jealous Creatures, & Economy Island.]
(Sinkhole Texas Inc. --; The Ex-Optimists --
BUY ME: Bandcamp

Review by . Review posted Friday, December 4th, 2015. Filed under Features, Reviews.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

H-Town Mixtape

Upcoming Shows



Recent Posts


Our Sponsors