CD REVIEW: Extra - F R Double E
By J.D. Stefan
Extra is a Los Angeles-based band that revolves around the writing and vocals of drummer James Mills. The CD credits list Mills as having played and composed all tracks. The band’s website information lists Anita Morand on bass and melodica, Aaron Criswell on galactic guitar and treatments and Jon Niemann on guitar, keyboard instruments and effects. F R Double E is the only release to date by Extra and the 9 “progressive pop” tracks were produced by Mills. The CD artwork is well-done but the CD cover does not include the name of the band or the album title. You have to turn to the rear cover for that information. The CD also came in a standard plastic jewel case but was also inserted into a cardboard wrap-around cover which mirrored the front cover art. Nice idea but probably an expense that wasn’t really that beneficial to the end product. It’s nice to see that the band is actively performing. Their MySpace site is up-to-date and the main website also has gig info even if it is a little light on other details about the band.
The CD opens with “Forward to Mono”, an upbeat, power-pop rock track with great melodies reminiscent of Matthew Sweet. James Mills definitely has an ear for pop melodies and a suitable voice to go along with them. There are some cool and unexpected arrangements on the CD, notably on “The Medley I Warned You About” and “From Me to the World”. The latter has a great middle section with some expansive string pads and atmosphere. The CD’s final track “Free in Time” is another upbeat power pop song that gives way to somewhat of a rock jam in the middle section. It’s a great way to close out what is really an introspective and relaxed album so the energy is welcomed when it arrives. There is not much detail regarding the recording process but it would appear that Mills did most everything himself. The CD was mastered professionally by Mark Chalecki at Capitol Mastering in Hollywood and the overall sound is cohesive as a result. The song arrangements in general are thoughtful and make good use of dynamics and varied instrumentation. I don’t know if Mills is influenced by The Beatles but to me there is certainly a strong sense of their influence throughout the recording. Instruments are recorded adequately and there’s good clarity. The mix quality, while clear, won’t necessarily win any awards but the lo-fi vibe works well on most of the tracks. I think that Mills has followed his vision with F R Double E and should be happy with the result.
F R Double E is a good album overall but there are definitely some details that miss the mark. Mills’ drumming is solid and dynamic and he does a good job of fitting each song appropriately. The guitar work, other than the rhythm parts, is hit and miss. There is very noticeable overload distortion on the guitar in the outro section of “Years” for example and some of the vocals are close to the edge in terms of overloading as well in some spots. Mills does a good job with the rhythm section (bass and keys) and the CD doesn’t come across sounding like one person. It does at times however sound like it was recorded in a garage and poor acoustics come through at times. Although I’m betting that a lot of the production was intentional, it sounded to me like the songs were recorded in different locations and rooms and some definitely translate better than others. I think the mastering is the saving grace that ties it all together.
Mills has a solid effort here with F R Double E, certainly respectable for the talents of one person doing everything. It would be great to hear a release from Extra that features the full band. With some more focus on the pop sensibilities that he clearly has and a more polished recording, Mills could definitely see wider commercial appeal. Perhaps adding more Extra’s into the mix and production rather than the cover art and packaging would make this solid effort even more appealing to a wider audience.
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