After eight years and a small name change, John Darnielle and Franklin Bruno return as The Extra Lens with Undercard.
Musically, it’s difficult to separate The Extra Lens from Darnielle’s main act, The Mountain Goats, these days. In 2002 it was still a novelty to hear Darnielle in hi-fi and with more than just acoustic guitar.
Now the differences are more subtle: the gentler use of percussion, the nimble arrangements and the variety of musical styles. While Darnielle’s lyrics will always take center stage, Bruno does an excellent job creating an atmosphere for each song.
“In Germany Before The War” wouldn’t be nearly as engaging if it weren’t for the haunting piano lines and pitch-perfect choice to use accordion as an accent. A triumphant fanfare adds a bit of irony and humor to an otherwise dark moment in “How I Left The Ministry,” the story of the car crash of an adulterous minister and his mistress.
The melodies on 2002’s Martial Arts Weekend were clearer and catchier, but Undercard is more successful in telling its stories.
The short bursts of description in “Cruiserweights” paint a clear, stark picture of an amateur boxer. The same tactic is equally effective in “Only Existing Footage.”
In “Cell Programmed Death,” Darnielle sings of a moment that was “almost unremarked upon.” The Extra Lens use these types of moments (the mishaps during a movie production, checking into a hotel at the start of vacation) and the people in them to remind us that there is more to life than just the main event.
Undercard will be available October 19 from Merge Records.