by Hex


★★★¾ (3-3/4 stars)

"Hex is neither a group, nor an album..." begins the brief Hex biography, which, I must admit, threw me. It's a touch off the mark.

Hex is actually Steve Kilby [sic], taking time off from his songwriting/singing/bass playing duties with Oz's The Church, and Donnette Thayer, guitarist and backing vocalist with quirky popsters Game Theory, from San Francisco. Their union here is nothing like either.

Rather, 'Hex' (the album) relies on Kilby's [sic] sparse, untainted strumming and synth-work, overlaid by the icy, pure—perhaps even naive—voice of Thayer; this is the lady who recently remarked, "I picked my bass up and put on 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and I could play all the songs, and I thought, Oh my god, I'm a bass player... A lot of people struggle with those things. Maybe I was just lucky." Yup, fortune sure is a choosy bitch.

At times it recalls the Cocteaus ('Diviner') or All About Eve ('Fire Island', 'In The Net'), but 'Hex' is essentially a simple, eminently effective stream of musical spring water, rippled with enough unexpected touches of subtle psychedelia to take it out of the ordinary and into desire.


★★★★ (4 stars)

In Marion Zimmer Bradley's exquisite novel The Mists of Avalon, the author retells the Camelot legend from a woman's point of view, weaving the fantasy of Arthur Pendragon, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and Morgana with a serious historical hypothesis.

Bradley (along with other feminist scholars) contends that in the centuries that preceded Christianity in Europe, the agrarian society embraced a peaceful, woman-centered religion whose rituals included fertility rites and worship of nature.

As Christianity and its fervent followers swept through Britain, female Wiccan practitioners were usurped and replaced by the male priests of what was to become the Catholic Church. It is this facet of the displacement of women in organized religion that Donette [sic] Thayer, who performs as Hex, addresses on her self-titled debut album.

Steeped in lush acoustic arrangements that resonate with a smattering of synthesizers, Hex gives new prestige to the genre often sneeringly dismissed as "art rock." Thayer's vivid lyrical images and lilting vocals recall the classic work of Genesis on Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering (that is, before Phil Collins ran amok, when the more esoteric Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were running the show).

In an alto by turns whispery and forceful, Thayer spins allegorical tales of spirits, angels and mythical beasts, drawing specific parallels to the imperiled status of the rights of contemporary women. Each poetic verse and chorus is enhanced by simple but rich melodies with instrumental backup by Steve Kilbey.

In an era fraught with repressive politics and violence against women, Hex soothes with a potion of tranquility, but the brew is spiked with a message to the descendents of the Wicca. Beneath the surface is a pointed undercurrent of warning. In so many words, Thayer calls to her sisters: If we don't stand up, we don't stand a chance.

Imagine, if you will, Kate Bush handling vocal duties for the Church, and you'll have a pretty accurate idea of "Hex."

A joint project by Steve Kilbey — bass guitarist and singer-songwriter with that Australian band — and former Game Theory guitarist and singer Donnette Thayer, "Hex" is overflowing with pleasantly ethereal moodiness. And while Thayer lacks the vocal range and strength of Bush, she does have a shimmering singing style similar in phrasing, providing a delicious complement to Kilbey's accomplished musicianship.

Although it isn't particularly adventurous, "Hex" has a consistently high quality of music, rich in texture. Especially nice numbers include "Mercury Towers," "In the Net," "Silvermine" and "Hermaphrodite."

[Review of "The Slow Crack" followed.]

Together, "Hex" and "The Slow Crack" ought to fit in quite well in the record collection of devout Church followers.

On paper, the collaboration of Donnette Thayer and Steven Kilbey may seem highly unlikely. The former is an ex-member of Game Theory, quirky popsters from San Francisco who owe as much to James Joyce as they do to Alex Chilton. The latter is bassist and vocalist for the Church, Australia's number one contribution to modern neopsychedelia. However, they somehow manage to avoid any of the territory previously covered by their respective bands, and come up with something completely new and intriguing, simply entitled Hex.

In Game Theory, Thayer was primarily relegated to back-up and occasional lead vocals. But here, her beautiful voice is way up front, acting as the main instrument. She expresses every emotion, from little-girl innocence to mature conviction, without sounding coy or overbearing. Even though Kilbey handles the majority of the vocals in the Church, he remains completely silent here. Instead, he contributes sparse instrumentation, not too dissimilar from the mood pieces on his first two solo LPs, Unearthed and Earthed.

The element that sets Hex apart is its textural, ethereal quality, and the emphasis on "sound as well as songs." It is safe to assume that Thayer and Kilbey attempted to write music that would fit well into ambient production and deep echoes, as opposed to simply applying dreamy atmospherics later. Those who hear Hex may try to draw a 4AD comparison, but I'm afraid that would be a little bit off base. The only aspects that Hex shares with bands like This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins are the emphasis on space and sonic color. Hex is a gorgeous, mysterious release that you will find yourself playing again and again. Highly recommended.

This splinter project, a musical union of Game Theory's femme fatale vocalist Donnette Thayer and The Church's multi-talented Steve Kilbey, allows both the freedom to stretch and grow beyond the typical pop constraints of their earlier works, and the results reveal an elaborately unfolding labyrinth of seductively lush washes of sound and intriguing atmospheres and moods. Hypnotic and enchanting, ethereal and spacey, more sounds than songs per se, these ambient, abstract pastel sketches lure in the listener with an intriguing, enveloping air of sparseness and mystery. Sometimes Cocteau-esque, at other moments these moody expanses of sound recall This Mortal Coil and a violin-less version of Hugo Largo, while the plaintive guitar strums invoke Downy Mildew. Far more outgoing and clear than she seemed in her days with Game Theory, Thayer wraps her angelic voice around these pure and clear melodies effortlessly, like the delicate coils of a sea shell. Sometimes it seems that the records that are the quietest and hardest to hear are also the ones that ultimately seem the most special once we allow ourselves to get lost inside them. Top cuts: "Diviner," "Hermaphrodite," "In The Net," "Ethereal Message" and "Silvermine."


Like a long walk in the grey pre-dawn mist, Hex brings a sense of serenity, a pause which is reflective and pure. Donnette Thayer can whisper in your ear, words filled with mystic wisdom, or plead like a little girl. Steve Kilbey from The Church adds gentle sweeps of guitar here and there, but the main thrust of this LP is mood; more than melody, the vocals and phrasing are key. "In The Net" with its steady beat and almost quiet pace is a little out of place but very good. Most songs are slow, open, gentle and hypnotic. "Elizabeth Green", "Diviner" and "Silvermine" are romantic and moody. Sounds and effects are used to create the rhythm of ocean tides in "Fire Island" and phrasing is even more a part of "Mercury Towers" in Hex's well timed world. Drums take on the effect of a gentle heartbeat, voices become a vehicle for widespread prayers. The world will come to a halt if you let Hex cast its spell over it.

Hex pairs Donnette Thayer, formerly of Game Theory and Veil, and Steve Kilbey of The Church, and the debut album glows with ambience unrestricted. As producer, Kilbey skillfully creates space while Donnette fills it with lustrous femininity, that seems undaunted by the sound temptation to leap out [and] grab you. Hypnotic is not even an adequate statement. It mesmerizes - capable of elevating or clouding your awareness. She touches upon unknown or forgotten nerves with an experienced caress. Her voice suddenly changes character from extroverted and dancing to a closeted riddle only to be deciphered carefully. To call it poetic is only to observe its form, and "Diviner", "Fire Island" and "Into The Net" (for starters) are alive with resounding echo. The melodies carry minimal weight that evolves into exquisite creatures of ageless unsullied flesh. "Hermaphrodite", "Elizabeth Green", "Ethereal Message" and "Silvermine" are equally splendid.

PRODUCER: Steve Kilbey
First Warning/Rough Trade

"Ethereal Message," one of the song titles here, can also stand as a description of the sound of this collaboration between vocalist Donnette Thayer, late of California's Game Theory, and producer/instrumentalist Kilbey of the Church. What songs lack in immediate rock power they more than make up for in allusive, hypnotic force. Deserves a modern rock shot.