A Haunted Music House
Arty alt performers Extra Life have woken from an especially chilling nightmare with Dream Seeds, a woodsy and thematically honed meditation on all things unnerving and autumnal—the stuff of “never tell a soul” secrets, occult rites in the New England woods and sepia-toned little girls in Victorian babydoll dresses. You know, basically all the creepy shorthand imagery custom-built to scare the hell out of us. It doesn’t hurt there’s also an encounter with the “Beast of Years,” presumably the great dragon himself, ha-Satan. So extra points there!
Seeds’ opener, “No Dreams Tonight,” lays the tomb-laden groundwork with wicked aplomb, reacquainting us with a foolproof, age-old paradigm: Little white children in stodgy clothing are absolutely frightening. “No dreams tonight,” mutters an eerily benign voice. Sure, Adeline. Just put the ax down, all right? Chief songwriter and vocalist Charlie Looker proves himself a master of mood and theatre, finger-picking lonesome chords and respiring like some icy ferryman rowing you down the River Styx. “Tonight I’m fucked up, and I don’t wanna know what I know,” he sings with gray weather melisma, dragging out his words like Morrissey if he were a defrocked priest. Then there’s a pennywhistle solo—yes, a pennywhistle solo!—sure to stir even the least of Salem’s witches. If this isn’t American Gothic, what is?
A point vital to this album’s success lay in Hooker’s often intrepid and unlikely word choices. With the lullaby gone wrong “Little One,” what seems like a predatory romance from the perspective of a child stalker, the singer growls “My hands touch you!”—then calmly counters with “I’d make an omelet out of you.” Yeah. The “What’s this guy gonna say next?” factor keeps you on your toes throughout, amply serving the music’s blood and brooding to a tee.
Assuming a number of roles from song to song, Hooker is often of the tortured “knows too much” variety, narrating a series of grimly connected post-traumatic events, crime scenes and ghost stories. In Dream Seeds’ climactic 12-minute closer, “Ten Year Teardrop,” Hooker plays a despondent father who’s forced to bury his daughter after an ill-explained tragedy. He takes “ten years for a tear to hit the ground,” then bang! Our living dead girl returns at the 5:45 mark, crashing and clawing with otherworldly noises—or as Poe would put it, “rapping, rapping at the chamber door.”
Extra Life’s latest is a dexterous haunted house of sequential thrills and chills. In one room it’s a mutton-chopped father asking “Where is my wooden club?” and fixing to beat his children bloody. In another you see old floorboards pried up with human remains found just below. This is the world of Dream Seeds, and if you’re tired of getting freaked by goths and metalheads, Charlie Looker and company are just the demonic choirboys for you.