Formed by members of bands such as The Donkeys and Fruitbats, Extra Classic could be defined as an indie supergroup. However, Your Light Like White Lightning is not what you’d expect from a band whose members have spent time in the ranks of Modest Mouse, or playing alongside Conor Oberst.
Confounding expectations, Extra Classic have turned their hand to reggae, which is a bold move. Pulling off an authentic Jamaican sound is tricky, and those who attempt it can find themselves on the borders of unintended parody or sounding woefully inept; UB40 for example.
Using analogue recording techniques, the band have ensured that the production side of things is appropriately tinted sonically, but that’s half the story; the band has to be in the pocket to nail authenticity. For the most part it appears that Extra Classic could attempt anything and make it sound credible, but these songs certainly aren’t reggae by numbers.
Opening strongly with Congo Rebel, a song awash with sharp hooks, fine melodies, and a laid back skanking vibe, vocalist Adrianne Verhoeven wastes little time in establishing that she is the shining star in Extra Classic’s sound. She possesses a beautifully pure tone and considerable versatility. That the backing vocals have been appropriated from Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and the backing track gives a nod to Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse might be nit picking, but the mix works well.
Metal Tiger follows, and despite the title suggesting urgency it is in fact a heavy-lidded affair that again showcases the talents of Verhoeven. It could do with sounding dirtier, which is a problem that affects many of the songs on Your Light. Despite the analogue recording, there are times when it is just not lo-fi and grimy enough.
You Can’t Bring Me Down is the first of a handful of songs hinting at the influence of Bob Marley’s bonefide reggae/pop crossover hits. A strong chorus, complimented by some upbeat ska provides an early highlight and proves that Extra Classic know how to write great songs regardless of genre. The touch of Marley can also be felt on Creation, and more specifically, Demon Hit, which utilises that flanged guitar that did so well on Stir It Up (there are hints of Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way too, strangely enough). Demon Hit also drops a blob of dub into the mix, swamping Verhoeven’s vocals in delay as the guitars swirl away behind her. It’s a trick they employ earlier on the sleepy lope of Electric Stars, which, if nothing else, displays Extra Classic’s knowledge of the breadth of everything that seems to fall under the reggae umbrella.
Strangely, the most interesting moments on the album step away from the reggae/ska template. Angel Eyes is a soulful ballad that smoulders gently with Verheoven in fine form and the band occupying a space somewhere between Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe and Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World. Closing song Give Me Your Love is stunning, but miles away from the Jamaican influence found across the rest of the album. Verhoeven is in full torch mode, belting out an impassioned chorus that demands attention.
That the most affecting tracks on an album devoted to the reggae sound should be those that take a step towards soul is odd. Whether it’s a signifier of a lack of inspiration or admirable adaptability, it points towards an element of inconsistency at the heart of Extra Classic. There are moments of unbridled brilliance and times where the muse appears to be lost temporarily, but generally the good outweighs the bad.