X: Alphabetland (2020)
I caught them live a couple years back and was shocked at the energy and vibrancy they brought to the show; you could close your eyes and have no clue that you were hearing a band whose most primal work was released nearly 40 years earlier. This album, on first listen, takes me to a similar place. It's rousing, energetic, and frenetic, with more more in common with the band's earlier albums than their arguably more staid, classic rock-tinged final studio works in the late 80s (though I personally find those records terrific in their own way).
Checking in at under half an hour (less if you exclude the album-closing spoken-word-and-piano track), it's a non-stop blast. A few tracks bring the early rockabilly-punk velocity, pushed along by Billy Zoom's always-welcome hot licks -- "Delta 88 Nightmare" refurbishes an old demo to blistering effect; "Goodbye Year, Goodbye" is a fabulous Los Angeles throwback. Others have a bit more of a pop feel; the opening title track could very well be a modern noise pop track influenced by Best Coast or the Raveonettes, but distinguished by Exene & Doe's trademark interlocked vocals.
And ultimately it's those vocals which make the album. The pair are totally checked in and none the worse for wear. And, sure, the old-school punk cred is here ("Strange Life" seems to be built off the "God Save The Queen" riff), but despite the passage of 35 years since this original quartet played on record together, at no point does this sound like an oldies act cashing in on a revival. It's a 2020-sounding album which just happens to have the voices (and guitars) of a cherished band. Check it out.
Here's the video for "Water & Wine":