The Extra Lens - Undercard (Cover Artwork)

The Extra Lens

The Extra Lens: UndercardUndercard (2010)
Merge Records

Reviewer Rating: 3.5
User Rating:

Contributed by: JeloneJelone
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When John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats) and Franklin Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue) debuted the Extra Glenns in 2002 with Martial Arts Weekend, the project simultaneously felt like a friendly one-off and a serious musical leap forward, at least for Darnielle. It was a breezy collection of songs writt.
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When John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats) and Franklin Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue) debuted the Extra Glenns in 2002 with Martial Arts Weekend, the project simultaneously felt like a friendly one-off and a serious musical leap forward, at least for Darnielle. It was a breezy collection of songs written and performed by two friends. But by Darnielle's pre-4AD standards, it was stuffed with instruments. With a few exceptions, TMG's lo-fi days consisted of just acoustic guitar and vox, with a smattering of bass. But Extra Glenns gave Darnielle a chance to expand his range, mere months before dropping the truly expanded musicianship of Tallahassee. Bruno, meanwhile, known for loud, angry indie rock tunes with NPB, got a chance to dial it down a bit.

Eight years later and a few letters shorter, the rechristened Extra Lens finally released a followup record, Undercard. While it sounds a great deal like Martial Arts Weekend, it feels like a step back musically after all of the indie rock leanings Darnielle embraced on records like Heretic Pride and The Sunset Tree. The lyrics are still sad, but the music itself is brighter, flecked with Bruno's shimmering guitar and piano parts. Darnielle handles lead vocals, and he sounds exactly like himself. He's a great songwriter, but he pretty much has two choices as a singer, shouting and whispering. Either way it's a little nasal.

Undercard is freed from the emotional weight of TMG's last few records. This isn't a concept album about dead family members, although it certainly tackles familiar TMG concepts like infidelity and suicide. In a sense, Undercard is the Burn After Reading to The Life of the World to Come's No Country for Old Men. It's funnier and lighter and still dark, but also slightly disappointing for those same reasons. Give me intense songs about cancer and drug abuse, man. I just wanna relate.

Still, this is Darnielle we're talking about. That guy doesn't fail. So while Undercard might not pack the same resonance as Get Lonely, it's still a quality effort. Take a song like "How I Left the Ministry," a pleasant little ditty about a preacher and his neighbor's wife who get into a car accident while on their way to a hotel for athletic displays of adultery. The lyrics pack in self-loathing and sexual desire, with lines like "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'" delivering a wallop.

Undercard is a lesser work for Darnielle and Bruno, but it's still better than most of the records released this year. Put it another way: Longtime fans might be underwhelmed but still satisfied. New converts can enjoy it with the knowledge that both artists' discographies are even better than this album.


People who liked this also liked:
The Mountain Goats - Heretic PrideThe Mountain Goats - All Hail West TexasThe Hold Steady - Stay PositiveThe Clash - London CallingThe Gaslight Anthem - Señor and the QueenO Pioneers!!! - Neon CreepsThe Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to ComeFang Island - Fang IslandJawbreaker - 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
mrdogg45 (November 12, 2010)


I suppose that is true, Heretic Pride is pretty goddamn rocking.

I'm just saying. Can't we get Darinelle pared up with Mastodon for an album? Tell me you wouldn't listen to that, because then I can call you a liar.

coldwaraaron (November 12, 2010)

balls yes. solid album for us mountain goats fans.

dlangl4 (November 10, 2010)

I'm glad I clicked into this review. The Mountain Goats are insanely good. I'll be checking this out asap.

greg0rb (November 10, 2010)

Well I want another All Hail West Texas but we know that ain't happenin.' A rock record would be awesome - Heretic Pride was pretty close to that. I love MG with drums, and that's one thing this Lens album is missing big time.

mrdogg45 (November 10, 2010)

I wish JD would stock ticking my dick and make a full fucking ROCK record one of these day.

I know some of you Goats lifers out there think the soft songs are good, so well written, the emotional depth, etc etc. Fuck that noise. More "Dogs of Clinic 17!"

Jelone (November 10, 2010)

Greg - It's on the list now. Who am I kidding, it's Darnielle. He knows me too well. SWOON.

greg0rb (November 9, 2010)

HEY I liked Burn After Reading! Not disappointing! I like my darkness peppered with humor and that's why They Might Be Giants are my favorite band.But to get back on topic, I like the Mountain Goats of old that this album reminds me of. Even the melodies remind me of the low fi days. It's really grown on me, Joe! It seems it's grown a bit on you.... NOW do you think it's gonna make your list? Lots of good stuff has come out this year, for sure. It'll be upper teens if it makes it for me.

jimmynorville (November 9, 2010)

I prefer this to the last Mountain Goats album.

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