April began with a storm of 1990s reunion albums, and the sophomore release of Mary Timony’s Ex Hex trio was the most memorable. The first Ex Hex album relied on a punk and power-pop brew, but in It’s Real (Merge), Timony adds a distinct hard-rock 1970s sound recalling The Runaways. All three women contribute to lyrical insights, but Timony will win a new guitar goddess moniker. Women also dominate the return of Leeds band The Mekons, whose Deserted (Bloodshot Records) transitions them from sloppy anarchists to tight country-punkers.
Andy Gill has had a tough time retaining energy for another famous Leeds arts collective, Gang of Four, but Happy Now (Gill Music Ltd.) utilizes new vocalist John Sterry to sound as tense and tight as early days under Jon King. The band’s anger at populism in all forms makes for a heady mix.
The 1990s artist going farthest afield is Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, who is often invisible except for rare collaborative projects. She has released an album with the Polish National Radio Symphony interpreting Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (Domino). Gibbons’ remarkable voice makes this 2014 live recording a must, but fans are sure to wish she’d enter the studio more often.