Friday, October 12, 2018
Extra Arms - Headacher
Depending on how you look at it, Headacher is either the fourth Extra Arms album or the very first. "Extra Arms" was originally a humorous nod to Ryan Allen serving as his own backing band on his solo endeavors. Allen, former singer/guitarist for Thunderbirds Are Now!, made three solo LPs using the Extra Arms handle. Then something really cool happened: the backing band Allen assembled to play live shows in support of his last solo album Basement Punk clicked so terrifically that a new permanent band was born. And just like that, Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms became...just Extra Arms! The band members are Allen, Michael Gallacher (guitar), Ryan Marshall (bass), and Sean Sommer (drums). Headacher, then, is the debut release from Extra Arms. It retains many of the characteristics of Allen's solo albums. But with this album, you definitely get the sense that you're listening to a proper rock band. And sonically, that lifts Extra Arms fully into the realm of mid-to-late '90s alt-rock/power pop.
If Basement Punk was Allen's nod to early '90s college radio, Headacher pushes forward a few years to the cleaner, crunchier sound of alt-rock greats like Sugar and Superdrag. The guitars are cranked way up, and the band elicited an absolutely massive sound from producer Geoff Michael and mixing/mastering superstar Paul Miner. But at the heart of the album are the same qualities that made Allen's solo records so appealing: memorable melodies, meaningful lyrics, and tremendously likable vocals. None of these things are lost amidst the wall of guitars and pristine backing vocals. If anything, the added oomph of a tight, powerful band heightens the impact of these songs. "Why I Run" is the type of song Allen has always done so well: taking something meaningful to his life and allowing you to feel its importance. But with the full force of Extra Arms behind it, "Why I Run" comes off like a pump-up song for the ages. Even if you're not a runner, you can easily relate this song to anything in your life that brings you purpose and exhilaration. I'm adding this one to my gym playlist for sure! Elsewhere songs address topics ranging from cultural ("Done To Death") to personal ("Honey Brown") to even political ("Push the Button"), and it's all don well. For me personally, this is an album that takes me back to a time when alternative rock was just freaking awesome. The moment those Superchunk-ish guitars kicked in on "Headacher", I knew I was in for a treat. The influence of Bob Mould is all over "Done To Death", and that can never be a bad thing. "You Make The Life You Want" sounds like a missing track from Goo Goo Dolls' Superstar Car Wash. "Honey Brown" brings to mind the melodious guitar pop of Teenage Fanclub or even Allen's buddy Nick Piunti. "The Last One" may set off your "token sensitive acoustic number" alarm, but you'll have a hard time denying that it's an absolutely magnificent song.
Will fans of Ryan Allen's solo releases love Headacher just as much? I have no doubt! But it's with good reason that Allen's name is no longer attached to the Extra Arms moniker. Headacher, far from one man's creative vision, is the collective effort of an exceptional rock band. These guys wrote and recorded this record together, and they absolutely knocked it out of the park (what's the appropriate running metaphor? Lapped the field?). Headacher releases today on Get Party! Records. Save it some prized shelf space next to your well-worn copies of Regretfully Yours, File Under: Easy Listening, and The Colour and the Shape.