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The Extra Lens: Undercard

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Artist: The Extra Lens

Title: Undercard
Release date: October 19
Label: Merge

In "Cruiserweight," John Darnielle (best known for his work with The Mountain Goats) sings "I get better as I get more worn down." You've gotta love anyone growing old in the rock 'n' roll game who can make such a statement -- and can back up the boast.

After nearly 20 years as leader of The Mountain Goats, Darnielle is as respected a songwriter as there is in indie rock. And as one half of The Extra Lens (the other half is Franklin Bruno, whose tasteful piano and electric guitar touches color this otherwise acoustic record), he's presented a collection of songs that may appeal to fans of Billy Bragg, Leonard Cohen, John Prine, and even Robyn Hitchcock.

Undercard is an unlikely entry in Merge's stellar catalog of 2010 releases, despite Darnielle's legacy in indie music, because its conventional melodies and utter lack of coolness seem so out-of-place on the nation's premier indie-rock label. But if you can get past the grown-up coffeehouse sensibility  -- the delicate, perfectly enunciated vocals and unpretentious (some might even call them a little cheesy) arrangements almost challenge you to give in to its charm -- you're in for some evocative, literate songwriting. Which, of course, is exactly what you'd expect from Darnielle.

The Extra Lens - Only Existing Footage

Best song: "Cruiserweight"
Rotation: Medium
Deja vu: "Oblivion's been knocking since I gave it my address."
I'd rather listen to: Have I mentioned how much I like Wreckless Eric's latest work with singer-songwriter Amy Rigby?
Grade: B+

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.


The "Nothing Not New" Archives



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