It’s easy to see why many have overlooked the experimental quintet, which will release a remix EP on D.C.’s Sockets Records in May: One can throw a rock in the group’s native Brooklyn and hit five art-rock acts. Yet, as Made Flesh makes apparent, it’s hard to understand how anyone could ignore Extra Life. Fronted by musical wiz kid Charlie Looker—-a former member of the art-punk act Zs who has worked with Glenn Branca and Dirty Projectors—-Extra Life exudes an exuberant and visceral sound missing from many of the band’s artier peers, yet maintains a musical complexity and intelligence in every song.
Take “The Ladder,” which clocks in at a little less than six-and-a-half minutes. The tune is as dynamic as any in the band’s small oeuvre and suggests the kind of patience in its execution that many acts fail to demonstrate over decades-long careers. The ditty starts off slowly, and just as Looker sends his vocals into a gymnastics routine suggesting Gregorian chant, the song takes flight: Diversions toward mathy progressions collide with a creaky-sounding violin while Nicholas Podgurski‘shardcore-worthy drumming directs the disparate sounds into a fluid whole.
Made Flesh is something of a step up, or rather, a step toward a more accessible composure for the band. Extra Life’s criminally overlooked 2008 debut, Secular Works, sounds almost unapproachable by comparison. The new album is more fluid, its sonic flow a little clearer, its dynamic changes harder.
One thing that may help people notice the band this time isn’t even on the album. It’s Dave Longstreth. Looker and Extra Life have garnered a lot of comparisons to Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors, and Looker’s own foray as a Projector has provided a great hook for many music writers and fans searching for a way to describe the band.
While Looker’s intricate guitar play and vocal bungee-jumping certainly recall his peer’s work, Extra Life is harder, more complex, and maybe even more spellbinding than Dirty Projectors. Still, once the Projectors’ Bitte Orca hit the Billboard 200, the doors swung open for groups as challenging as Extra Life to find a larger audience. Fine, but experimental groups should now be less concerned with big numbers than measuring up to what Extra Life has made.