The second EXTRA LIFE album, Made Flesh, was released 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 (previously released in 2008 in the U.S, released in the UK on the LOAF label in 2009. Here's the Organ reviews of both albums and the first UK gig.
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 Europe.
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 Black 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 Secular 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 it again
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.
That's 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 overused 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 OUT THERE!
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. Their
magnificent 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.
The 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.
This 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... (M)
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.