“You Don’t Get It (You Don’t Got It)”, the first track on The Exbats’ latest album, sets the bar exceedingly high for the eleven songs that follow on Kicks, Hits, and Fits. The opener builds beautifully with oohs, handclaps, and Inez McLain’s steady snare pounding away. It’s on par with the band’s sharpest material and may very well be the best new punk song of the first quarter of 2020. The insanely catchy “Funny Honey” has a retro feel accentuated nicely by a sixties-sounding organ. Although The Exbats’ songs are often short and simple, the slick production work of the trio’s former bassist, Matt Rendon, makes each ephemeral moment stand out.
Inez’s youthful vocals are a perfect fit for the upbeat exuberance expressed in each of the record’s first four tracks. Things take an uncharacteristically balladic turn, however, by the time “Maven of the Crafts” appears. Here, Kenny McLain, Inez’s father and the band’s guitarist, takes over both vocal and instrumental duties. Kenny’s voice is a mix of Bob Dylan and Johnny Thunders, and Kenny’s solo acoustic moment is reminiscent of Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”. After Kicks, Hits, and Fits’ lone ballad, the trio ramps back up to their cruising tempo with the excellent “Wet Cheeks”. The Exbats’ best songs have always been the ones that tie together three or more disparate song pieces, and each piece of “Wet Cheeks” is more thrilling and visceral than the next, right up until the song’s final minute wherein Inez passionately repeats, “You gotta pick up your heart and fight.”
Whether it’s the aforementioned retro organ on “Funny Honey” or the glockenspiel punctuating “Put Down Your Fights”, the carefully selected additional instrumentation sprinkled throughout the songs on Kicks, Hits, and Fits never upstages the core trio. The album’s two most forgettable moments occur back-to-back during Kicks, Hits, and Fits’ final third with the songs “Immediate Girl” and “Florida”. It’s not that the pair aren’t energetic, only that they’re comparably unoriginal and come across as by-the-numbers punk that’s been done a million times before.
The record’s ender, “I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts”, is Kicks, Hits, and Fits’ longest song and its most comical. Inez goes through her feelings regarding The Monkees, The Beatles, and the members of the Rolling Stones (“Keith is the best, Mick’s out of his mind”) before singing about having a thing for the septuagenarian of the track’s namesake. The album ends with Inez repeating, “I got the hots, for Charlie Watts,” as Kenny solos nicely just underneath. Kicks, Hits, and Fits is The Exbats proving that better production won’t detract from their garage punk roots. Overall, a solid collection.