Extra Life Dream Seeds (Northern Spy Records)
Ex-Zs & ex-Dirty Projectors member Charlie Looker has his own group who go by the name of Extra Life. The band have a very distinctive sound, and although our reviewer didn’t fall in love with said sound there were other aspects to the record that he was impressed with. Read on to find out which.
When I first heard this album, I hated it. It rubbed me up the wrong way. Yuck. Bleck! The vocals were the first thing that jumped out at me, being painful to listen to, off key, often flat, and just plain annoying. But, after giving it a chance and listening a few more times, the album did grow on me (marginally), though the voice still hasn’t. It is far from an album I enjoy or would listen to often in the future, but the Bleck level has decreased somewhat.
I do have to say that the lyrics truly are amazing and the strongest aspect of this album. Charlie Looker is the guy who wrote them; an elementary school teacher who is, apparently, spiritually reborn, whatever that means. According to Northern Spy’s media release, this concept album is “Alternately brutal and tender, haunted by ghosts of both the dead and the unborn, the songs of Dream Seeds express the violent yet redemptive collision of the Real and Psychic Worlds and an archaic belief in the divine truth of dreams.”Â Hmmm. Interesting description. Accurate? Well, seeing as I haven’t a clue what they are saying with that, I don’t know.
Let’s look at the songs, shall we! “No Dreams Tonight”Â seems to be about self-medicating to avoid a night of terrible dreams. “Righteous Seed”Â appears to be about an abortion (though a bit cryptic); a sad, shocking and political song (pro-choice though acknowledging it is a terrible decision to have to make). Whether it is autobiographical or not, I’m not sure. “Discipline for Edwin”Â is about corporal punishment and how it messes kids up. “Little One”Â, “First Song”Â and “Blinded Beast”Â are confusing, but I sense that they are about child abuse, maybe sexual abuse, either as a nightmare or a reality, not sure. And, “Ten Year Teardrop”Â seems to link back to “Righteous Seed”Â with a sense of extreme regret over a performed abortion, as well as bringing back the theme of corporal punishment, this time in a classroom. Smattered throughout, there are religious references, eluding to abuse and cover up at church (maybe?), pro-life shaming, and hypocrisy, (possibly?). Really, there are many layers, connections and storylines that seem to be going on here. The lyrics are great, but do they match the media release description? Beats me.
The Organ says “Extra Life are as damn near to perfect as music can be”Â¦”Â. Clearly they are hearing something I am not. Good for them! Maybe they are more open minded then me, but I would not use those terms. They are dubbed progressive neo-folk and “plague pop”Â? Again, beats me what these terms actually mean. The music itself is not horrible, but not fantastic either. “Blinded Beast”Â is quite Bauhaus-ish with some excellent guitar work. And the final song, “Ten Year Teardrop”Â is pretty darn creepy, and would probably be my favorite. But, overall, it isn’t brilliant musically. Often it is dull and bland, with some spacy effects, a bit of a symphonic sound, all with those god awful vocals on top. I’m sorry Charlie Looker, I just don’t like your voice. Please don’t take it personally. I’m sure you’re a nice guy!
So, to sum it up, this isn’t one of my favourite albums. Far from it. I can’t see myself listening to it again, probably ever. It was interesting to hear a few times, but it’s just not for me. I just can’t get past those vocals. I am impressed by the lyrics. Those are good, interesting, creepy, dark, and weird. I would rather read them, or hear them as a spoken word performance than in this format however. Actually, the more that I think about it, the more I like the sounds of that! Hmmmmmm.
Extra Life is Charlie Looker (vocals, synthesizers and acoustic guitar), Caley Monahon-Ward (electric guitar, synthesizers, electronics, violin, backing vocals) and Nick Podgurski (drums, synthesizers, electronics, backing vocals).
You can order the CD, LP or digital download of “Dream Seeds”Â, the bands third album and first on Northern Spy Records here. Hopefully you will enjoy it more than I!
All words by Chris Hearn. More articles by Chris can be found here.