Release Date: Oct 19, 2010
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
It’s almost too easy to fill a review of The Extra Lens, formerly The Extra Glenns, with trite references to the makeup of the band. Yes, John Darnielle — The Mountain Goats, popularly — and Franklin Bruno — of the Human Hearts and Nothing Painted Blue — make up the group, and yes, this is only their second full-length. That’s hardly the point, though.
The last time John Darnielle and Franklin Bruno released an album as a duo, it was way back in 2002, and they called themselves the Extra Glenns. That album, Martial Arts Weekend, served as a sort of test case for Darnielle's progression beyond his acoustic-guitar-and-boom-box years. Later that year, Darnielle's Mountain Goats released Tallahassee on 4AD, thus beginning their long and gradual transformation into an actual band.
It’s been nearly a decade since last we heard from Franklin Bruno and John Darnielle’s project, The Extra Lens (then “The Extra Glenns”). Since then, John has gained a good amount of notoriety for The Mountain Goats, while Franklin’s work under his own name, Nothing Painted Blue, and The Human Hearts (plus an incredible collaboration with Tsunami’s Jenny Toomey) remains primarily appreciated by those of us with more records than money. Whoever’s camp you find yourself in, the reuniting of these two talented songwriters is great news.
It's hard to really think of the Extra Lens (formerly the Extra Glenns) as a side project for Mountain Goats' mainman John Darnielle and former Nothing Painted Blue singer Franklin Bruno. The two seem to just play together when the time is right. Bruno will guest on Darnielle's records, or join his touring band, or -- when the two are really grooving -- get a whole album of material together.
In boxing, an undercard features preliminary matches between newer, lesser-known fighters. There's a touch of modesty, then, in the title of this second album from the long-running though infrequently active collaboration between two seasoned indie world heavyweights, the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle and Nothing Painted Blue's Franklin Bruno. But it also alludes to the typically lowered expectations attending such side projects -- for performers and audience alike -- which in this case work out quite nicely: while hardly a major work, this is the loosest, spryest album Darnielle's been in involved with in ages.
John Darnielle possesses perhaps the most devoted following of any figure in contemporary indie rock. Call it a cult, if you will, but his cult is less about apocalyptic visions and matching white tennis shoes and more about compulsively collecting his outrageously extensive discography and experiencing the singular emotional catharsis that each Mountain Goats show brings to a few hundred like-minded people. Although they’ve progressed from legendarily lo-fi to lushly produced numbers, The Mountain Goats remains Darnielle’s project through and through, with apologies to bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster.
It would take an ungodly combination of dedicated scholarship and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder to reach the end of John Darnielle’s recorded works. Many fans have tried and some have even claimed supremacy over the months-long (or maybe years-long?) running time of his distended discography. But to the average Mountain Goats aficionado, lacking the time for Kabbalistic number-crunching or the memorization of national epics, falls the task of defining the canon for everyday access.
John Darnielle would be a rich man if every wordy folkster who built a career on his M.O. paid him royalties (cough, Colin Meloy, cough). Entering decade No. 3, the man best known as the Mountain Goats teams with singer/songwriter and renowned music critic Franklin Bruno. The collaboration doesn.