Ex Hex Credit: Michael Lavine

On Ex Hex’s 2014 debut, Rips, guitarist-vocalist Mary Timony of D.C. postpunk royalty Helium and Autoclave went pop in a new trio. On the brand-new It’s Real (Merge), Timony and company rein it in and slow it down. The first album’s power pop was rooted in a frantic, nervous vibe and proved the band geniuses at cramming earworm vocal melodies and white-hot guitar licks into brief explosions of energy. But the greatness of It’s Real comes from a nearly opposite angle; its songs smolder and steam, its hooks ooze, and its guitars yearn. The band’s new pacing gives the tracks a dramatic, glammy edge, and the brilliant “Tough Enough,” the shimmering, tough-but-sensitive opening track on It’s Real, would feel right at home on Cheap Trick’s 1977 masterpiece In Color. Rips was my favorite album of 2014, and that slab of pop perfection is still a regular in my rotation. With It’s Real, Ex Hex have brought me that same joy all over again.   v