Max S. Gerber
The Extra Lens' "Only Existing Footage" perfectly encapsulates the way small missteps can bloom into ruin.
Max S. Gerber
Song: "Only Existing Footage"
Artist: The Extra Lens
John Darnielle's early albums as The Mountain Goats are constructed out of tape-hiss and white-knuckle intensity — the searing work of a man willing to record his impeccably worded screeds on crappy boom boxes and let fans tease out the majesty. But, like just about everyone, Darnielle has mellowed over time: He works with gifted musicians, records in a studio, lets notes and words hang in the clear air, and crafts reflective concept albums about loneliness, troubled youth and salvation. Often languid, his newer songs can seem timid next to the shout-along anthems that dot his discography.
Still, his words stun and devastate. Though moonlighting as leader of The Extra Lens — his on-and-off collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Franklin Bruno, with whom he's also recorded as "The Extra Glenns" — Darnielle is in exceptional form throughout Undercard, an appropriately titled collection of songs about also-rans and aspirants who can't escape the gravitational pull of failure. The album's best song, "Only Existing Footage," perfectly encapsulates the way small missteps can bloom into ruin, using a troubled film production as a metaphor for looming disaster.
As seemingly minor but significant indignities pile up for the hapless filmmaker in Darnielle's story — a take is lost to a hair on the lens, the script girl wanders off, continuity is lost, at least one reel disappears with the luggage — the stakes rise well past the everyday woes of disappointed backers and wasted money. "Oblivion's been knocking since I gave it my address," Darnielle sings matter-of-factly, making it clear that his hero's miseries don't subside once the cameras stop rolling.