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Move your eyes to the right a little bit, maybe scroll up or down some, and you’ll come across a tidy little list of D.C.-area record labels. Among this list are some incredibly obscure labels releasing incredibly esoteric music. Over the next little while I’ll be briefly profiling a few 2008 releases from a few of these labels (four to be exact), starting today with Planaria Recordings.
Currently highlighted on the Planaria Web site’s splash screen is Extra Life, a New York City-based group led by Charlie Looker, formerly of Zs (also on Planaria). Zs wowed a small crowd at the Hosiery last year (with Looker) and a much larger crowd at Velvet Lounge last month (without him), playing a highly composed, dissonant avant-rock that has all of the band members hunched over their scores yet still managing to rock out. Extra Life shows obvious signs of this lineage, but ported into a much more accessible form.
It seems that Looker was a bit of an anomaly in Zs. One interview has a Zs member saying “Charlie writes the hits. I don’t even fucking get where he’s coming from.” After hearing Secular Works, Extra Life’s debut full-length on Planaria, it makes sense that Looker felt he needed to leave Zs: this is a totally different animal. Think math-rock overlaid with oddly soothing vocals that have the feel of a monotonic medieval chant, and you’re on the right track. While parts of the opening track remind of Discipline-era King Crimson (interlocking guitar lines, shifting rhythms), there are also some nearly indie-pop numbers that actually inspire me to (gasp) sing along.
Crowds at the Zs shows in D.C. tended to stand stock-still, mesmerized or perhaps just overwhelmed by the sheer force of all the music-theory-in-action going straight over their heads (and lest I be called elitist, I definitely fall into both these categories myself). But I’d guess an Extra Life show would be an entirely different affair. I can just imagine 15 people in a tiny venue trying to dance and sing along to this stuff, and it’s a satisfyingly amusing image.