Extra Lens – Undercard

January 01, 1970







A second outing from the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle and
philosophy prof/Nothing Painted Blue songwriter Franklin Bruno is as brainy and
hyperverbal as you’d expect,  brashly
strummed, intricately worded and, at times, poetic in a glancing, understated


The two have changed their name from Extra Glenns to Extra
Lens, and whatever “Glenns” meant before, there does seem to be a slightly
disorienting extra perspective slipped into these songs, so that irony coexists
uneasily with genuine feeling. In “How I Left the Ministry,” one of two
adultery songs on the disc, Darnielle simultaneously satirizes the moment and celebrates
it unabashedly, as he narrates the last seconds before an automobile accident. “And
the last thing I saw before falling unconscious/was your right hand tracing a
heart on my thigh/and I thought, my god, what an infantile gesture/and I
thought, my god, what an indescribable high,” he sings. It’s a split/frame
instant, where the singer seems to be both inhabiting the song and drawing
quotations around it.  


Even at their most elegiac, Bruno and Darnielle work hard to
undercut any latent sentimentality. For instance, “Tug on the Line” is, on its
surface, a hazy and delicate memory song. The arrangement has an airy
lightness, arpeggiated chords hanging lightly in an almost palpable breeze. The
lyrics are wistful, a boy’s recollection of going out fishing with his father. And
yet, there’s a hint of darkness in the narrative when the net comes out of the
water and deep water fishes spill from it. The verse meticulously observes what
happened — “And the fish that looked like monsters/ from way down where the
water is cold/slipped down the deck like shuffleboard saucers/making their way
to the hole/everybody’s eyes like saucers/nobody saying a word” — yet it also
seems like a metaphor for family secrets that are dredged up unexpectedly then
pointedly ignored.


The album is named after the secondary boxing matches that
lead up to the main fight, most likely a reference to the sporadic,
side-project nature of Extra Lens. Yet boxing is also at least nominally the
subject of the album’s strongest song, “Cruiserweights”, whose twinkling piano
and easy acoustic strumming only accentuate its sadness. The first person in
the song morphs from a singer performing listlessly (“I get better as I get
more worn down”) on a borrowed PA system, to a boxer in a similarly unglamorous
fight (“Take a couple shots to the liver/then remember what the food was like
in prison/stick to the game plan”). The song is so skillfully written that it’s
hard to even pinpoint where the change happens. It’s like being at the eye
doctor, and a new lens slides in, and you see everything in a slightly
different way.     


DOWNLOAD: “Cruiserweights”, “Tug on the Line” “How I Left the Ministry” JENNIFER KELLY

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