There are two late ‘70s/early ‘80s bands whose music, after all these years still gives me goosebumps: This Heat (first and foremost) and The Work. Both these groups fed off the angularity and anger of punk, but their music also had certain things in common with the most austere practitioners of progressive rock (Henry Cow, Art Bears): odd time signatures, a love of dissonance, weird chord progressions, and a subtle medieval influence.
When the first Extra Life album, Secular Works, made it down here last year, I was gobsmacked. This American group had captured the spirit of those two groups, but without simply copying them. Guitarist/vocalist Charlie Looker’s songs and singing may be somewhat of an acquired taste, but at least his personality is strong enough to imprint itself on the project.
In a way, This Heat are a hard rock group for people who hate hard rock, and the same could be said for Secular Works, with its massive stop-start riffery and use of noise in both an experimental and time-honoured fashion. The follow up, Made Flesh, is a very different beast, but in its own way, just as good.
It’s a lot more keyboard-oriented than the first, and there’s a detectable classical minimal influence to go with Looker’s oddly-phrased and slightly awkward lyrical constructions.
Some might feel that they have lost the plot and become a tad self-indulgent this time round, what with the enjoyably daffy operatic ‘One Of Your Whores’, and even a section that goes all baroque one minute, then all Celtic the next; yes, they have a violinist.
But really, Extra Life wouldn’t be doing their thing if they weren’t testing the limits, and taking it that little bit farther.
Made Flesh may not be the kind of album that makes it onto the daily listening agenda, but it’s a rare treat when the mood takes you, and apart from This Heat and, oh, The Work, there’s not another band in the world that sounds anything like them right now.
Sound: The recording sounds quite natural, and there’s prodigious bottom end, but the audio is almost as austere as the group’s aesthetic, so there’s no sign of any post production sonic sorcery. GARY STEEL