The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats began life in a Norwalk employee-housing studio apartment that had awesome deco tiling on the bathroom floor but little more to recommend the place as a living space. Still, you take what you can get, and it was ridiculously cheap. In this room, equipped with a dual-cassette recorder, John D. started setting some of his poetry to music, using a guitar he'd gotten for a few bucks at a nearby strip mall music store. His idea at the time was that eventually his day job would be "poet." Young men have all kinds of crazy ideas about what they're going to end up doing for a living.
After a while the songs became more like songs than poems set to music, and John started playing them for his friend Rachel, who as it turned out, played bass. John and Rachel toured the eastern U.S. & Europe once, the midwest twice (if "Chicago, Columbus and Madison" count as "the midwest"), and played San Francisco a few times, and they recorded two albums and a couple of EPs. Then John graduated from college and moved to Chicago, and the Mountain Goats became Mainly Just John, except for a couple of European tours where John's friend Peter Hughes played bass. In 2001, though, 4AD called up and asked if the Mountain Goats wouldn't like to make records with them. John called Peter. They hit the studio.
As a duo, the two toured at a pace that can fairly be called "relentless" from 2002 until 2007. They made records: Tallahassee, We Shall All Be Healed, The Sunset Tree, Get Lonely. They took to recruiting drummers from their opening acts to play the last few songs with them. And then they met Jon Wurster, and the three took to the road in support of Get Lonely, from Fairbanks, Alaska to Hobart, Tasmania, and a few points even further south. They enjoyed playing together so much that when it came time to repair to the studio again, all three went in. In 2008, the three recorded Heretic Pride, and in early 2009, The Life of the World to Come.
The Extra Lens
The Extra Lens, having streamlined their operation by dropping a G and a superfluous N from their name-and why gnot-enter the new century not a minute too soon, following up on 2000's Martial Arts Weekend with Undercard, a collection of eleven original songs and a pretty ominous-sounding cover version.
Comprised of John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats) and Franklin Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue, the Human Hearts) and formed in the Inland Empire during the region's brief next-Seattle shortlist period, the project began as a potential home for any song John wrote that had a) more than three chords or b) a bridge. New songs for the group only happened when John figured he'd written something that Franklin might find clever or amusing, although at least one such song, remembered as "Anti-Witchcraft Song," is lost. Reasoning that permanent-bridesmaid status means you never have to actually buy the dress, the duo have approached record-making at a pace that one would call "leisurely" if it wouldn't make the leisure class look like busybodies: one 7", several compilation appearances, one full-length at the dawn of the aughts, and now, arriving with Paul Masson-like deliberation, Undercard.
Ah, the French champagnes! Recorded with Brian Paulson (Slint, Beck, US Maple) at the Rubber Room in Carrboro, North Carolina, and with Mitch Rackin (Excepter, Heavy Hands) at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn, Undercard is the first Extra Lens record to arrive as a full collaboration between songwriters. The recording method, however, persists: John plays guitar, sings, and then gets the hell out of Dodge City, leaving Franklin to provide arrangements as the songs required: here sparing, here ornate; sometimes gentle, sometimes not; once with vibraslap, mostly without.
Main events bloat and sink under the weight of expectations: ever seen a Klitschko fight? Us neither. The Extra Lens invite you to sit down, put your feet up, and enjoy the Undercard.