Now that John Darnielle has signed up The Mountain Goats to be part of the Merge Records roster, it seems only fair that he give the label a little sampling of his magic. Instead of throwing a 7″ or a single out, he collaborated with longtime friend, Franlkin Bruno, to complete only the second full-length, Undercard, by the duo known as The Extra Lens. Frankly, Franklin’s participation doesn’t go too far to stretch the sound of the typical Darnielle work, but its his subtle touches here and there that give a bit more depth to the normal acoustic strumming of old JD.
If you travel the path of a normal MG release, you’ll find that “Adultry” isn’t far off from that place, except the slightest noise in the background, that of a nicely distorted guitar chopping its way through the melodic strumming of Darnielle. It’s a shortened number, but what would come off as a short-penned song, now holds a new layer. It’s these ever so subtle touches that alter the work throughout Undercard. “Cruiserweights” just uses the most basic piano tinkering off in the far horizon of the track, and even using that doesn’t really alter our perception of The Extra Lens as being yet another venue for Darnielle’s songs. Basically, they’re the same old same old, only much much prettier.
You’re probably reading this, thinking that its just some boring re-hash of Mountain Goats material, but what it truly is, is just a man adding those finishing touches to his usual maseterpieces. John Darnielle has to be one of the finer craftsmen of song, and instead of leaving those magnificent pieces raw, he’s opted to use his friend Franklin to finish everything off, add a little gloss, and give it a hint of sheen.
You know, the world really needs more songs like these, especially if they’re given the Criterion treatment by Bruno. “Some Other Way” originates as a general unrequited love song, but an organ touch here, a far off strum in the background shifts it all, providing the song with the same sense of yearning that is created by the narrator’s words. There’s even somewhat of a Western feel, almost as if a cowboy has lost his herd, and aches to get them back. Such things are welcome in the great catalogue of JD. And you’ll find odd pieces to fall in love with as well, much like “In Germany Before the War,” which employs nothing more than a whispering John, a down-trodden piano line, and perhaps a bit of accordion. It’s a heavy emotion created, perhaps meant to accompany such a heavy-themed song.
You’ll find that Undercard, though beautiful in its entirety, really doesn’t venture too far off the beaten path of The Mountain Goats. But, that being said, does it really hurt you to have more polished beauty from Darnielle, especially when he’s got Bruno paying keen attention to the most important details? The answer to that question is probably no, so you should probably do what’s right, and go get your hands on the new Extra Lens record.
Download: The Extra Lens – Only Existing Footage [MP3]