The Extra Lens: Undercard

The Extra Lens: Undercard

B+

The Extra Lens

Album: Undercard
Label: Merge

For a band that’s been around, on and off, for almost 20 years, The Extra Lens has kept a pretty low profile. Then again, “low profile” is pretty much the best way to sum up Undercard, the band’s second full-length, and its first since 2002’s Martial Arts Weekend. Originally known as The Extra Glenns, the duo of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle and Nothing Painted Blue’s Franklin Bruno sounds exactly like a mix of those two projects, but where Martial Arts was more of a slapdash, punk-folk affair, Undercard peddles in a more mature, assured—though no less skeletal—kind of songcraft. With an acoustic-plus-distortion-plus-piano approach that recalls Billy Bragg’s early work, Darnielle and Bruno spin tattered fables of drifters, losers, and “guys in Bermuda shirts” who are “chewing on cigar stubs.” Darnielle and his wordy, runaway verses sport more empathy than ever for such grizzled characters, which reveals just how much The Extra Lens has eroded pleasantly over the years. And when, in the spectral song “Cruiserweights,” he sings, “I get better as I get more worn down,” it’s hard not to hear the whole of Undercard as proof.

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