If 2002's The Golden Dove marked the weakened end of Mary Timony's adventures in soft, synth-piano-organ-centric magic, Ex Hex marks a bold new beginning. Though the album retains some key Timony hallmarks -- Tolkienesque babble, Fender Rhodes twinkle, hints of grrly sass -- the guitar muscles are more bronzed than they've been in a decade. On "9 X 3," her ax stomps aggressively in a low-tuned, Batman-theme style on the verses, softening into bright, springtime chordage at the chorus. "Backwards/Forwards" is a proggy exercise in supersonic weight-shifting, its central riff recycling a percussive chug as synthesizers power up and wind down alongside it. Amid the sinew, Timony still finds room to indulge the Shire with "In the Grass," all piano-'n'-synth-puddle staircases and cymbal quakes. Who'd have thought she had this in her?