Collecting together and reworking a series of songs originally released in bits and pieces and various formats over the course of two months during the summer of 2014, 8 Queens was an album I’d been anticipating for a while. As the follow-up to Colors, which had been a contender for album of the year in 2013, it’s an album with a lot to live up to as well.
For Extruders, 8 Queens is a case of something old, something new, plenty borrowed and everything tangled up in blue. Second track Zombie recalls the band’s early days as purveyors of short, sharp postpunk nuggets, like a sort of laid-back Wire, while I Wonder heads off in the new direction of highly compressed, minimal synthpop.
They still recall bands like Television and The Velvet Underground, although unlike the Heroin-style exercises in psychedelic tension in which they occasionally indulged on Colors, on 8 Queens they seem to have settled in somewhere closer to the Velvets of Pale Blue Eyes. These influences are also filtered through a sound more and more easily recognisable as Extruders’ own as time goes by, using the studio as an instrument in its own right and treating even the smallest hisses, squawks of feedback and other sonic quirks as essential elements of the overall arrangement, as in the intricately employed stabs and caresses of noise in the intro to Kinjirareta Asobi.
The air of delicately refined melancholy that has always hung over Extruders’ work is still here, except now they seem to have cut down even closer to its raw essence, with Chinese Fairy Tale perhaps the masterpiece in this regard, wilfully eschewing any obvious melodies until just the moment where it slips into the simplest and most gorgeous four-note guitar solo.
8 Queens is an album that revels in its own subtlety, revealing new layers with every repeat listen, displaying its beauty in discreet little flourishes rather than broad strokes. It’s none the worse for that though, and the result is that it’s an album that, once you let it start to work its magic, you can easily lose yourself in.