A live recording on a CD/R presented in an unassuming brown paper bag might not be the kind of thing that would usually compete for album of the year accolades, but Kanagawa’s Extruders are an unusual band in a lot of ways.
They have their most obvious roots in postpunk, a sound more obviously apparent on their short, sharp, but nonetheless understated 2007 debut, Neuter — this is a band who once played a set composed entirely of cover versions from Wire’s second album, Chairs Missing (also, try translating the song title “Collapsing New Buildings” into German). Without obviously changing what they do, however, Extruders have grown in both depth and richness of sound, as well as subtlety, often touching on the lest bombastic fringes of psychedelia. The vocals never rise above a whisper, but the songs are textured with both more melody and more noise. Song lengths have grown, but so has the band’s skill in exploring musical space, and while Kimi no Hane Oto clocks up seven and a half minutes, not a moment of that is wasted.
Fiercely independent, Extruders frequently drop out of the live circuit completely, retreating into the studio for months at a time to work on material or new recordings; when they do play shows, they insist on bringing all their own gear to gigs regardless of what equipment the venues already have; and they rarely play without their own video projection backdrop. Every performance they make is more a self-contained art performance than a gig as such, and the atmosphere they create onstage is so absolute that even the rowdiest punk audiences are reduced to awed silence within seconds.
They are also a band with a keen sense of not only musical space, but also the physical space the music inhabits, which is why the decision to do a performance dedicated to Benzaiten/Sarasvati, the Buddhist deity of art, at Saimyoji temple in Niigata is far more than just a gimmick. Pray contains the entirety of the band’s short live set, with the addition of two studio versions, and without getting into the spiritual relationship between the music and religion (and the dangerous descent into hippy twattery down which such lines of thought are often the first step), we can say perhaps that the minimalism and detail of Extruders’ music are a good match for the sparse aesthetics of a Buddhist temple and its grounds.
And this level of attention to detail naturally extends from their performance to their music. Every sound, from the most delicate, melodic guitar phrase to the most earsplitting explosion of feedback is delivered with laser precision, and while their stage manner is for the most part static, this imbues even the smallest movements with greater impact. In particular, the guitarist is constantly exploiting the theatrical potential of even the most mundane aspects of the act of playing music, from his position relative to the audience and the movement of a guitar stroke, to the act of unplugging his guitar in order to play a noise solo with his fingers on the loose cable. Even on an audio recording like this, these subtle flourishes are timed intricately enough that they occasionally carry across, as on the closing track (of both the concert and in its recorded incarnation the CD) track, Mono.
Pray may have been released humbly and without fanfare, but it’s a beautiful record from one of the best bands in Japan. Extruders are currently barricaded in the studio, working on a new album for release spring 2013, and you’d be fools to miss it.
Full disclosure: A studio recording of the song Collapsing New Buildings was also included on my label, Call And Response Records’ Dancing After 1AM compilation.