Why Last Ex Rules by Jonny Dovercourt (2015)
Last Ex rules because their music is like Netflix for your mind.
We’re so spoiled, sitting here with our tablets and devices, all of recorded history’s creative output at our fingertips, rendered as media content to be Chromecast onto our hi-def flatscreens – if you can afford such a thing – and still, it’s not enough. Scroll, browse, scroll, browse and you still can’t find that one show that’s going to hit that sweet spot and fully take you out of your daily preoccupations. Or maybe that’s just my own peculiar problem, first world or otherwise.
I listened to Last Ex’s self-titled debut probably more than any other album of 2014. Everytime I hit “play”, it never failed to transport me into a mental movie fully more engaging than anything available on any video streaming service. That their music is “cinematic” is no coincidence – the Montréal-based duo of Simon Trottier and Olivier Fairfield are also members of Timber Timbre, who channeled some serious David Lynch vibes on records like Hot Dreams and Creep On Creepin’ On, and this project had its genesis with a film score that band worked on. Attentive listeners will also know that Timber Timbre had a song featured in an episode of Netflix favourite Breaking Bad. Like Heisenberg’s Blue Sky, a Last Ex track is a hit that demands and expands your full attention, making your eyes bug out with amazement like Tuco’s in “Crazy Handful of Nothin’ ” (S01E06).
I would put in some melodramatic warning about it being addictive here, but luckily it’s just a record. The only danger is to the rest of your collection and new things demanding your attention; for a while there last fall, when I asked myself what I wanted to listen to, the answer was usually “that Last Ex record.”
Like so many other great instrumental records on their label imprint, Constellation Records (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Colin Stetson), the lack of a human voice guiding you allows you to more fully immerse yourself in both the soundscape and the narrative sweep of the composition. As I mentioned earlier, Last Ex picked up where a lost Timber Timbre horror movie score left off. But the sounds that Trottier and Fairfield ended up shaping are less the dramatic orchestral slashings of the killer’s attack than the eerie opening drive up the side of the mountain to that proverbial cabin in the woods.
But Last Ex aren’t “ambient” either – with tense, minimalist restraint, much of their material is driven relentlessly forward by Olivier Fairfield’s drumming, machine-like in its precision like the best moments of Can or Tortoise. Live, the guy is like the Buddy Rich of post-rock. You want another soundbite? Last Ex sounds like Spaghetti Western soundtracks played by robots.
And then there’s songs like “Nell’s Theme,” which makes me imagine a raven-tressed protagonist standing on the porch of a Prairie farmhouse, watching storm clouds slowly roll in over the cornfields. Scenes from movies better left unmade. Shows you can binge-watch in your head. So power down your laptop and come see Last Ex live at Kazoo! Fest on Thursday at eBar. Spoiler alert: it’s going to rule.