In the ten years since The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle last teamed up with Nothing Painted Blue multi-instrumentalist/noted music critic Franklin Bruno, they inexplicably changed the name of their band from The Extra Glenns to The Extra Lens. Not that it matters, of course—when you wait ten years to release new material, it’s sort of a given that you’ve lost whatever momentum you had. Not that that matters either, though: We’re talking about lifers here, two guys who have more than enough going on outside this particular collaboration. One almost wishes they didn’t, though.
Undercard would, on first listen anyway, have basically no problem passing as a Mountain Goats album. In fact, it could easily be considered the best Mountain Goats record since their 2005 near-masterpiece, The Sunset Tree. Darnielle puts his best foot forward here: he sounds energized and even more engaged than usual as he pulls out all his best moves, from the seething kiss-off of opener "Adultry" to the crippling, chilling melancholy of "Cruiserweights." His storytelling is in fine form too: a man gets into a car accident when a woman he’s cheating with touches his thigh on the way to a motel; another decides at the last minute against killing himself to win the affection of a woman.
Bruno’s contributions are subtle, but perfectly tasteful: backing vocals, some electric guitar, a little bit of piano. You’ll barely notice him if you’re not paying attention, but you should. He brings Darnielle’s songs to life in a way that no one else has been able to lately. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait ten years for him to do it again.