In late 1996, I heard the band Rex for the first time. A few friends had recommended their music and I, eager to delve further into the new-to-me world of indie rock, embraced their album C. A few months later, I helped put together a show that they played at NYU. I kept on listening to C over the years, though — for whatever reason — I never again saw them live. Were I to venture a guess, I’d say it was bad timing; their third and final album, titled 3, came out a year later, which likely meant that they were playing 21-and-over venues at a time when I was not able to enter such venues. Being straightedge at the time, it never occurred to me to get a fake ID for the sole purpose of showgoing. A decade and a half later, that decision’s one I find myself second-guessing more and more.
A few years ago, I ended up writing about Curtis Harvey, the onetime singer of Rex. He had a new solo album out on Fat Cat; sitting down with it reminded me that he has one of my favorite rock-singer voices. Like Califone’s Tim Rutili, there’s a weathered, reassuring quality to it; with that weatheredness comes a weariness, tending towards damage. It’s useful, then: just as at home touching on traditional folk sounds as it is heading into more fractured, experimental territory.
Unlike some of their contemporaries, Rex hasn’t merited a reissue campaign. Red Red Meat saw their 1995 album Bunny Gets Paid deservedly given a deluxe edition by Sub Pop; Codeine’s recorded works can now be purchased in a comprehensive package from Numero Group. Rex slip under the radar a little more. Though given that their music wondrously slips into quiet spaces, flickering in and out of the quiet, maybe that’s somehow appropriate.
At the same time, I’d like to see artists get the credit they deserve for the work that they’ve created, and so I’m happy to see the sole album from Rex offshoot Loftus being reissued. Loftus arose from a collaboration between Rex and members of Red Red Meat, including the aforementioned Tim Rutili. And sometimes the sound heard on this album is exactly as you’d expect: damaged-sounding Americana that sits at the intersection of the cerebral and the whiskey-drunk.
At other times, the group is far more interested in making instrumental soundscapes. (In terms of lineage, you could argue that there’s a pretty direct path from here to Volcano Choir, Justin Vernon’s collaboration with members of Collections of Colonies of Bees.) It veers from the pastoral to the cerebral and back around again, less concerned with pop traditions and more with exploring what this larger-scale ensemble was capable of. And in the end, that’s what might be the most compelling thing about this reissue: the sense of possibility that was born out of this collaboration. As Loftus nears its end and a banjo plays the opening notes of “Bell and Hammer,” it sounds as though a journey is coming to its end. Maybe that is the case — but revisiting this album now, it’s clear that the musical groundwork laid here is still ripe for exploration.