What Is Even Happening Right Now?, the third album from Detroit indie rock/power pop foursome Extra Arms, is truly a release for these times. Out now on Chicago label Forge Again Records, this ten-song platter was recorded in the midst of an historic pandemic and lyrically inspired by the non-stop insanity that was 2020-21. But rather than fixating on the darkness, What Is Even Happening Right Now? moves at full force towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Singer/guitarist Ryan Allen used much of his COVID downtime to record and release music of various styles. But there's nothing quite like rocking out arena style with a kick-ass band. And while the making of What Is Even Happening Right Now? was difficult and time-consuming, its arrival feels celebratory. That's no accident. This album radiates positive energy. It features songs that are informed by bleak times yet profoundly triumphant -- as if these guys took all of their frustrations from the last couple of years and used them as fuel to rock harder than ever. As a longtime Extra Arms fan, I was looking forward to this album anyway. But the themes of this record (looking out for our own mental health, striving to become a better human) really speak to me at this moment in time. Essentially this is an album about accepting how messed-up things are and just saying, "Fuck it: I'm not going to be defeated by all of this!" That's a wonderful message, and it's delivered with Extra Arms' usual blend of crushing guitars, pummeling drums, and massive hooks.
While What Is Even Happening Right Now? follows Extra Arms' general blueprint of Midwestern power pop running straight into '90s alternative rock, it's definitely the band's most varied release in terms of influences. It tips the cap to everyone from The Cars ("Feeling Alright") to Elvis Costello ("Click Wars") to Jawbreaker ("In Control") to The Who and Kinks ("Big Dogs") to Randy Rhoads ("Falling Into Place"). And while the band isn't afraid to get overtly political ("Click Wars", "Denial"), the majority of these songs are vigorously life-affirming. This is particularly true of the album's bookend tracks: the big rocker opener "Fun Guy" and the anthemic closer "I Don't Wanna Die." It seems redundant to describe an Extra Arms album as "energetic," but What Is Even Happening Right Now? has the feel of an unstoppable force. I'm guessing these guys were listening to a lot of punk rock when this album was being written and recorded. It certainly didn't hurt that mixing/mastering guru Paul Miner was on hand to make this record sound massive!
What Is Even Happening Right Now? features more special guest stars than a Love Boat episode. Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Bob Nanna (Braid/Hey Mercedes), Gregory Macdonald (Sloan), Lily (the Plastic Beach), Scott Allen (Thunderbirds Are Now!), Chris Hatfield (Love Axe), and saxophonist Matt Jones all lend their talents to this powerhouse of a record. Fortunately, all of that star power was not wasted on a mediocre set of songs. What Is Even Happening Right Now? is one of those old school big hooky rock records that hardly anybody makes anymore. While the word "bangers" should not be in any 51-year-old man's vocabulary, I can't come up with a better word to describe each of these ten songs. The world may continue to be a train wreck, but at least Extra Arms have given us a killer soundtrack. As a very wise man once said: "It's really good to see you rocking out and having fun."