|The second EXTRA LIFE album,
Made Flesh, is out in the UK on March 29th (2010).The New York band's previous
album, Secular Works, was album of the year here at Organ last year (ues
it did come out in 2008 in the U.S, 2009 in the UK though...).
Here's the Organ review of
the new album, an album that we've been playing the most weeks so far this
year on our RosonanceFM radio show. And here as well, all packaged together
on one helpful page, are the previous reviews....
MAR '10: ALBUM REVIEW: EXTRA LIFE -
Made Flesh (LoAF Recordings) - Made Flesh, the second full-length
release from New York ensemble Extra Life, has possibly the greatest ending
of any album, ever. It has one of the greatest starts, too - a glorious
gallop that captures the essence of the band in two minutes: precision
tribal/mediaeval drums, squirling analogue synth, some kind of weird distillation
of Paint It Black and a Peter Greenaway film, and vocalist/composer/frontman
Charlie Looker letting his East Coast-flavoured chorister's voice take
on a raw edge as it leaps through a vocal line straight outta 16th century
The songs in between are just as good.
Like anything unique, Extra Life's sound is agonisingly hard to describe.
Almost as difficult as describing Cardiacs. Looker has gathered some of
the cream of the burgeoning New York experimental music scene, including
musicians from Ocrilim and Little Women, with violin and wind synth a seamless
part of the sound. Undoubtedly progressive, peppered almost casually
with mathy complexity, they seamlessly combine it with intense industrial
darkwave heaviness and richly gleaming 80s synth pop. The only bands
that even vaguely resemble them are Thinking Plague and Sleepytime Gorilla
Museum - otherwise, nothing compares. But in reality, the dark heart
of Extra Life is lost in time, sucking energy from around four hundred
years ago. At its core, their melodies come from Early Music (the
good stuff that happened just before proper orchestras were invented),
especially monastic plainsong, with its chilling tunes and strange vocal
acrobatics. This is not the classical music of later centuries, it's haunting
and sharper and wilder, a revelation to ears that find much of the classics
over-romantic and cliched. Somehow, European madrigals and plainsong seem
uncannily relevant to these stories of fractured, desire-wracked lives
lost in the cities of the American East Coast. Maybe it's a millennial,
end-of-days thing, maybe the crumbling edges of our shiny civilisations
know plague and poverty enough right now to make this connection. It's
not some sort of sonic decoration, this is not twee or folksy showing off
with crumhorns - its the vital messy energy that kept humanity going back
then, same as it does now. Sex and death, then.
One of the most satisfying parts of Made Flesh is the way all eight
tracks work together as a whole, balancing and contrasting. If ever
there was an argument for the idea of an album, this is it. Between the
elegant heaviness of The Ladder and Easter (driven by Nicholas
Podgurski's jaw-dropping drumming), there's the magisterial title track
(a touch of early Japan, via the middle ages), the exquisite delicacy of
Hoodie and the quieter, darker empathy of One Of Your Whores
and wry modern troubadour's ballad Head Shrinker, They connect
with lyrics about desire, death, injury and healing, submission, pleasure...
Then there's the magnificent, slow-burning eleven minutes of The Body
Is True. Here's the culmination of the theme, obsession almost,
running through Made Flesh: that of flesh, body, mortality - in
this case, a hymn to striving for physical perfection, the futility of
it and a recognition of the urgency of living in the moment. Looker's
lyrics are as intensely physical and sensual as the music, and it's this
that give Extra Life ...well, life. There might be a decent number of complex
and adventurous bands around the globe right now, but so many are instrumental,
with a big hole where meaning and emotion should be. Extra Life feed that
need. More than that, these lyrics - like the music - stick in your head
and stand up to being picked over, and that's rare. Combining songwriting
like this and playing that's as close to contemporary classical composing
as it is to rock, the result is truly powerful.
Made Flesh is at once bolder and more accessible than the dazzling
Works (The Organ's album of the year 2009) - a little less subtle,
a little further away from the outer limits of experimentation, but wider
in scope. Each track is a masterpiece of elegant engineering and an almost
palpable, febrile physical energy: memorable, multi-layered, disturbing
even, all working together to make spectacular, irresistible entity.
I guess they've done
STOP PRESS: 8th APRIL: EXTRA
LIFE on vinyl... “Hello, I just saw your extra life review. Would it
be possible to say somewhere that Africantape produced the vinyl and that
it is available from www.africantape.com
- it would be great! Thank you Julien” There you have it, there’s a vinyl
version of the excellent Extra Life album available via Africantape.
a photo of Extra Life there, live at the Scala last year, what was
that strange electric flute thing he was playing with one hand while playing
keyboards with the other? Scroll on down for the live review and
bit further for the album review and a band you really need to check out...
8th Jan '10: Jaw dropping!
(and we never like to turn to that over used term). The first fruits of
the new EXTRA LIFE have been posted as a free download here
on Stereogum... We’re talking special even by their standards, have
to be the best band around at the moment. "The Ladder" is from the much
anticipated new album Made Flesh, out on Loaf in March. Just discovered
you can now stream the entire album on the Loaf
site. Seems there’s a single "Head Shrinker" that will come with a
Peaking Team-directed video and Tyondai Braxton remix on Socket Records.
To get the word out, there'll also be an R. Kelly cover split 7" with Larkin
Grimm for Planaria, a split 7-inch with Parenthetical Girls where each
band will cover the other, and a remix by JG "Foetus" Thirlwell. The album
cover is right there... We’re excited about this, listen to the album
on the Loaf site now, that’s 2010’s album of the year sorted then... (2009's
Organ album of the year was their last one
of course). GO DOWNLOAD THAT NEW TRACK NOW. EXTRA LIFE ARE THE BEST BAND
another photo of Extra Life there, live at the Scala last
night, scroll on down for the live review and bit further for the album
review and a band not to miss...
LIFE – The Scala, King's Cross, London, 18th May '09 - One of
those revelatory shows, many just staring like rabbits in the headlights,
some hooked for life. In between the friendly bright lo-fi of Baby Venom
(hanging together with a delicate touch of the shambolic) and the big,
wave-of-noise heavy shoegazing of Deerhunter, New York based Extra Life
stand out like... well, like something dropped from another planet.
Secular Works album is a tour de force of impossibly
tight playing and passages of jaw-dropping complexity in the service of
haunting, soaring, epic songs. Ask anyone who's heard it to describe
it and watch them squirm, finally weakly admitting: they're not like anyone
else... Inside those songs are medieval and Arabic vocal lines, stunningly
intricate glitch-like passages, drums equally precise and tribal. And live,
it's all there, lacking only some of the subtler moments of the album.
tightness and precision of Extra Life is something beyond any other band
I can recall. Yet their emotive power is their true strength. Guitarist,
band leader/composer and singer Charlie Looker has the voice of a fallen
angel, carrying the plainsong-like styling of the songs through the Scala's
notoriously boomy sound; whip-thin and mesmerising, he plays his guitar
high on his chest, conducting the violin, bass, keyboards/wind synth and
drums with the neck. They play the most complex passages seemingly effortlessly,
ecstatically, all fury and elegance. Surprise of the evening is the inclusion
of three new songs - big, bold, more super-progressive heavy ones, reminiscent
of Thinking Plague or a darker, tenser Gentle Giant.
band are playing their second ever UK gig in Brighton today (19th May),
and who knows when they'll be back in Blighty, and its three in the morning
thanks to the elusive 52 Night Bus - so let's get to the point: if you
live in Brighton you might want to drop in to the Freebutt tonight where
Extra Life are supporting Ariel Pink. You really, really might want to
do that, if you’re not in Brighton and can’t get to Brighton then make
every effort to see them when they come back, you need the album right
now... One of those revelatory shows, one of those extra special bands...
The album review is a little further down the page. Explore Extra Life
here - www.l-o-a-f.com or www.myspace.com/extralifetheband.
May '09: ALBUM REVIEW: EXTRA LIFE -
Secular Works (LoAF Recordings) - Time to roll out the superlatives, again.
I'd been warned, in hushed tones, by various US musicians and friends,
about Extra Life, but nothing prepares you for the sheer dazzling beauty
of 'Secular Works'. This is avant rock at its most original, sensual
and pleasurable. Led by New York based musician/vocalist/composer
Charlie Looker, Extra Life are born of that whirlpool of creativity happening
right now where contemporary composition and the full gamut of rock/pop/indie
sounds meet. Here, the initial ingredients are unlikely but delicious
combinations of Arvo Part plainsong and The Smiths, of medieval and early
music and experimental percussion with eighties' indie. And then its taken
somewhere else, somewhere actually, genuinely unique. Looker's voice
is exquisite, and, to top it all, he has something to say with it: glimpses
of the bleak yet moving underbelly of modern life, poetic city drama, hints
of dangerous emotion. Opener Blackmail Blues is the breathtaking curtain-raiser,
the overture to what feels like a seven-part opera as much as an album:
an hypnotic six-beat raga over which Charlie Looker's fallen angel voice
soars, wavers and dances, climaxing in an astonishingly performed glitch-out.
I Don't See It That Way takes that super-tight, intricately composed ending
further, but ends up - and this is the killer with Extra Life, this is
what will ensure they will stick in people's hearts - with choruses and
memorable refrains within a storm of strangeness. I'll Burn and This Time
are slow, magnificent ten minute dirges, worth every moment, the latter
building to a devastating, shivers-down-the-back ending. There's
the bright and breezy near pop hit of The Refrain, the one that really
does sound a bit like a middle-eastern Morrissey - although, to be honest,
its like nothing else in existence, it's as fresh as if music had just
been invented. As for See You At The Show... I've sat here
for too many hours now, trying to find a description to hang on this terrifying
music; maybe Morricone and Ligeti in quiet tension and a vocal line that
pushes European sacred music to somewhere in North Africa, simultaneously
played unison on what may be a guitar... no, I give up. Just hear it.
And the final accapella solo of Bled White.
Secular Works is gorgeous, exquisitely crafted, unearthly and echoing thousands
of years of culture like an heirloom found in a market on another planet.
Drenched in the reflected genius of the best of contemporary classical
composition, freed of all restraint by underground attitude, it reveals
itself with one novel, elegant surprise after another, shockingly new yet
profoundly emotional. - www.l-o-a-f.com
Extra Life play a show in London on a bill with Deerhunter at the Scala,
Kings Cross, this Monday May 18th