Futures and Past – Brix and the Extricated LP review

Brix and The Extricated – Part 2 (Blang)

There is no escaping the ghost of Mark E. Smith and The Fall when thinking about, listening to or watching Brix and The Extricated (writes Andy Wood).

For some fans of The Fall there is a red-line drawn here, that it is a form of sacrilege to even perform those sacred texts let alone continue to make music in the event of being excommunicated from the church of The Fall.

Originally the Extricated got together to perform a handful of songs they had been involved in composing, to play at the launch of Stephen Hanley’s excellent autobiography, The Big Midweek, before developing into a fully-fledged band. As time has gone on they have moved away from a set of songs drawn from The Fall’s massive back catalogue to write new material and the result is this confident, fiery and enjoyable debut.

Part 2 still draws upon their shared heritage with three ‘Fall’ songs plus a re-write of one. Escape from history is a constant theme on Part 2, a title that combines the past with a new chapter and it’s an album that looks back, sometimes in sadness, sometimes in anger but also with joy.

Equally, Part 2, looks to a future, where friendship, a combined history of experience and the sheer joy of creativity and performing music are important. The music and the band are out there now and you can chose to listen to it or not but it may be necessary to leave behind a few prejudices.

Personally, and with no disrespect to Mark E. Smith, whose singular vision and doggedness helped propel The Fall into making some of the best records I’ve ever heard, but these records were also collaborative efforts rather than the product of a solitary genius who can do no wrong. Anyone who sticks to that view should probably try imaging what Mark E. Smith and ‘yer granny on bongo’s’ would sound like. It isn’t pretty.

While Smith’s cussed doggedness and refusal to conform to the wider world’s expectations have been refreshing, at other times he has been a man quite willing to shoot himself in his foot. While most long-term fans have favourite periods of The Fall and favoured recordings I’m not so sure much of their output in the last decade or so will make it to those lists. Recent shows have been good, a term I wouldn’t apply to gigs I witnessed in the 80s and 90s which were astounding and powerful.

That my introduction to The Fall came in my mid-teens when Brix and the Hanley brothers were at the core of things probably helps me decide on which side of the divide I stand, the sheer pleasure of seeing The Extricated live and the highpoints of this album are undeniable and confirm it.

So, what does Part 2 actually sound like? Futures and past. The sound of a group of people previously marginalised celebrating a newfound freedom. It isn’t a perfect record but it has many highs and standout moments and I love it, flaws and all.

‘Pneumatic Violet’ is equal parts sweet and fiery. Brix was always seen, perhaps unfairly, as the sunshine and pop influence in The Fall bringing a lightness to the perceived darkness of the band. ‘Pneumatic Violet’ is a raucous opener built up on a series of memorable hooks and biting lyrics and images of violence such as ‘Thunder rumbles from the underground / Gonna rip your heart out and smash it down’.

‘Feeling Numb’ is the first of four Fall songs, this one from Cerebral Caustic’ and works well here with its winning combination of pulsating rhythm, filthy riffs and impassioned vocals.

The debut single, ‘Something To Lose’ is a brute of a song which owes a little to ‘New Big Prinz’ with its punishing but melodic bass and drums. It builds up in sheer intensity and takes on a life of its own with short but cathartic choruses contrasting with the viciousness of the verses. There’s a palpable sense of violence to the music and the lyrics but also a beauty too. ‘I rip at your seams / It’s your total destruction / It’s my total destruction’ suggest the requirement to break things to make way for something new, something of value.

‘Hotel Bloedel’ is the second Fall song and this time it shucks off the lo-fi sound of the Perverted By Language version to draw out the melodies. It still retains the dreamlike, haunted atmosphere of the original but brings the tunefulness of the song to the fore. It also brings a definitive change to the mood to Part 2 with its eerie and seductive atmosphere.

‘Damned For Eternity’ is harder in mood, sharp and full of coruscating moments and barbs: ‘Over and over / The same mistakes / How many times is it going to take?’ ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is a rewrite of ‘Midnight In Aspen’ taking Steve Trafford’s original tune and developing it into something more psychedelic and ironically, given it isn’t a Brix tune, it’s the most Adult Net moment on the record. The vocal is softer and lyrically it offers a series of more pastoral, sedate images:

“It’s just you and me
In the golden glow
Rippling grasses
The sea is our mother
We are savage.”

Where ‘Midnight In Aspen’ had the feel of a sketch or demo, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ has a more full almost cleansing sound, a sense of phantasmagoria and gorgeous ambience.

‘Teflon’ is more quirky with its shifts in mood, apocalyptic imagery and sounds and combined with a sense of hope which is both unsettling and reassuring. ‘Valentino’ is a twisted love song pulled along on a distinctive rhythm, warped riffs and subtly shifts and turns.

‘L.A.’ is a fairly straightforward take on one of my favourite Fall songs. True, it’s one I always associated with Brix and it retains one of the best bass and guitar lines ever. ‘This is my happening and it freaks me out’ It sounds as fine as ever and works in the context of this album yet there’s a ‘but’ in my mind that I can’t quite clarify. Still a powerful song and brilliant to hear in the live setting.

‘Time Tunnel’ is a short coda that merges the ending of ‘L.A.’ and the start of the final song ‘Hollywood’. This is a totally infectious tune and, thinking about it now, works in the company of ‘L.A.’. Where the latter song celebrates the weirdness and surrealness of Los Angeles, ‘Hollywood’ suggests that everything that glitters isn’t gold but that a darkness lies close beneath the surface. Both songs are Los Angeles through the prism of the outsider/insider and ‘Hollywood’ quotes from ‘L.A.’. The tarnished dream lie of a ‘canyon girl’. Bittersweet and sardonic but also a loving paean with some classic Hanley bass playing underpinning it all.

My initial approach to hearing about Brix and The Extricated was initially to be, if not cynical, then to be wary but I love them very much and Part 2 is a big step forward in their journey from out of the shadows. This album freaks me out but it’s definitely The Extricated’s happening!

Here’s the video for ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ from the album:

MPT Postscript: I would have liked to have done my own review of this album but thought that Andy would do a better job.

For what’s it’s worth though my view is that, having seen the band live last year, ‘Part 2’ isn’t just a great record – it’s a surprising one too. On the evidence of the show I expected this to be very hard edged and whilst there are songs that fall into that category, equally there’s no missing the pop moments that the album contains. It’s a strong record too, there’s not a weak link and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the band play again at Beat Generator Live in Dundee on Saturday 25th November. More info on the show here and tickets are available in Groucho’s or here.

The band’s full list of tour dates in support of the album is as follows:

2 November – Brighton, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
3 November – London ,  Oslo
4 November – Oxford, The Cellar
8 November – Wolverhampton, Newhampton Arts Centre
9 November – Bristol, Thekla
10 November – Nottingham, Bodega
11 November – Leicester, The Cookie
17 November – Newcastle-upon-Tyne, The Cluny
18 November – Wakefield, Unity Works – CANCELLED – VENUE CLOSED
24 November – Glasgow, Stereo [Tickets]
25 November – Dundee, Beat Generator Live (with STOOR) [Tickets]
2 December – Manchester, Apollo (supporting the Charlatans)