Punk music usually revolves around protest, rebellion and fast-paced, mosh-inciting style. Therefore, the scene can sometimes be written off as off-putting and relentless. However, Ex-Cult’s sophomore release, Midnight Passenger, shows clear signs of maturity and musical depth in the youthful neo-punk act’s career. The gang somehow found time between touring the States relentlessly to write some new material. Instead of lazily recreating their first release, the band decided to expand their sound, experimenting with new genres, guitar effects and musical depth. Unlike most punk bands that strive to embody the most powerful, brutal and noisy sound, Ex-Cult looks to refine their sound in a way that shows they aren’t a one-dimensional band.
Opening track “Shattered Circle” sounds most like their original releases, with its heavily distorted vocals that have indistinguishable lyrics which end up being shrouded by driving power chords, base lines and slamming drums.
“Confusion Hill” is spent exploring the reverberated, echoing guitar effects and how they can hypnotize listeners along with a steady drum beat that neither sounds punk or hardcore, but more like an example of cool-sounding feedback. Psychedelic influences emerge toward the end of “Confusion Hill” and into “Catholic Entries,” which utilizes synth and laser sounds. The lyrics, while hard to make out, embody a protest vibe with its monotone stability and reluctance to hold a note longer than a second. The song runs for over six minutes, maintaining the same guitar chord structure and rusty picking pattern. Sometimes the action will rise and subside, never too loud and never too soft.
The most impressive part about this album as a whole is that none of the songs sound too similar. Each track embodies a different mood or different aspect of punk. Some are angry, short and simple while others mix up structure and sound by exploring guitar noises and synth effects. The band shines brightest on the exploration songs, taking a page out of the Rush/MGMT/Tame Impala book of experimental psychedelics and molding it together with their distinct Memphis punk sound. Overall, Midnight Passenger shows that a young punk act has what it takes to develop an ear for intriguing and refreshing sounds and utilize it to the fullest.