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With Helium, Wild Flag, and her other projects, Mary Timony has played everything from feminist punk to subversive fairytale prog-pop. Over the years, she's made more room for fun in her music, and Rips proves just how good she is at it. While Helium had their share of sneakily catchy tunes, Ex Hex -- also featuring the Aquarium's Laura Harris on drums and the Fire Tapes' Betsy Wright on bass -- are much more melodic and direct than anything she's done before. Inspired by acts known for their massive hooks and choruses like Cheap Trick and Roxy Music, as well as early-'80s Top 40 hits, the trio makes well-worn rock poses and hooks come alive again on short, sharp blasts of songs filled with big guitars and "whoa oh oh" backing vocals. There's an inevitability to "Hot and Cold"'s strutting riffs, while Wright's "How You Got That Girl" is power pop brilliance worthy of Holly & the Italians. Timony's husky alto is perfect for Ex Hex's pull-no-punches approach, and on songs like "New Kid," she sounds like the toughest, most effortlessly cool rock chick ever. Making songs as catchy as these takes just as much skill as more overtly complex music, and Rips' stylized simplicity provides a great showcase for Timony's guitar prowess. In keeping with the band's back-to-basics approach, she plays in standard tuning, sounding bolder and more confident than ever on "Waste Your Time"'s riffs and solos. Ex Hex often feel like an offshoot of the collaborative fun Timony enjoyed with Wild Flag, and some of that project's spirit (as well as Helium's) lives on in rangier tracks like "War Paint" and "Everywhere," where Timony, Wright, and Harris play with tension and release on a grander scale. Since her earliest days, Timony has had a gift for creating vivid sketches of confounding, addictive relationships with lovers past and present, and the friction between frustration and attraction creates some of Rips' brightest sparks. She's strong and demanding on "Don't Wanna Lose" and "Waterfall" (where the object of her affection steals her wallet and passes out on the floor), taking on traditionally male roles while never losing the playfulness that is Ex Hex's lifeblood. One of the most entertaining chapters in Timony's career, Rips mixes simple pleasures and complicated ones into a completely life-affirming debut.