Sound Off!: Extra Golden

they look really cold

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MP3: Extra Golden – Anyango

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MP3: Extra Golden – Thank You Very Quickly

Extra Golden is a band who probably needs some introduction.  Formed by Ian Eagleson and Otieno Jagwasi while Eagleson was studying Benga music in Kenya for his doctoral thesis (a solid choice; there’s a void of information about Benga music on the internet).  Eagleson had formerly played in the Oberlin OH rock band Golden, and Jagwasi (who has since passed away from liver failure) was formerly a member of Orchestra Extra Solar Africa–hence the name Extra Golden.  After recruiting former bandmates Onyango Wuod Omari and Alex Minoff, the group set to recording debut album Ok-Oyot System.

I’ll admit that when I first read their biography, I expected this band would be the most egregious exploitation of “passport rock” yet, and there are certainly those who would say this band consists of two privileged white boys who traveled to Africa and brought back some local flavor.  Before condemning them outright, it’s important to note that Jagwasi and Omari were both successful musicians when Eagleson met them, so it’s not like he plucked some amateurs who would’ve been farming otherwise.  Furthermore, I hadn’t investigated Benga music prior to hearing Extra Golden, maybe never would have, so at the very least, before even hearing one note of music, I’ve learned something valuable from the band.

Thankfully, Extra Golden’s records don’t become the kind of comparative study common to “world music” (itself a vapid term), usually only interesting to ethnomusicologists.  Instead of blithely describing the similarities and differences of indie rock and Benga music, they’ve created a bizarre fusion of the two, with a spirit and sound unlike any music I’ve ever heard.  Keeping the laid-back feel and breezy melodies of Afro-pop and the instrumentation and guitar sounds of rock music, Extra Golden don’t draw many further comparisons (from me, at least; they might from someone more versed in Benga music).  Without verse-chorus-verse song structures, without polyrhythms, and often without English lyrics, this band has more to do with hard bop and fusion of the 50s and 60s than anything contemporary.

Thank You Very Quickly, Extra Golden’s third album for Thrill Jockey, is due out March 10, and the record succeeds where other bands with a supposed African influence have failed.  Instead of appropriating a few instruments or atmospherics into otherwise standard pop songs, Extra Golden works a singular musical language out of two rather oblique traditions.  The careening, often seven to eleven minute songs are the kind of outdoor summer fare that music festivals are made for.

Extra Golden will probably never produce a blockbuster hit, but they’re well worth checking out, even if you don’t usually hit the World Music bin at the record store, because the band is too compelling to be a curiosity and are winning over listeners of more standard indie fare.  The songs had to grow on me a bit before I really could get into them, as is usually the case with an unfamiliar style, but ultimately the music left me realizing just how staid and commonplace most of our beloved experimental rock bands are.

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