If there is one way to describe Extra Life's debut album, it's overwhelming. Purely, sublimely, overwhelming. Secular Works is not the kind of album you come to really get your first or second (or, to be honest, even your tenth or twentieth) time through. It's such a hodgepodge of musical ideas, I'm not even sure where to start talking about it.
I suppose I'll start, arbitrarily, with the vocals. In terms of voice quality, they're nothing overwhelming or worth writing home about - but it's in the melody lines that are sung that the true genius lines. They weave through uncomfortable, foreign modes, far from the realm of normal, acceptable music. Here, the vocals are far more an instrument as part of the mix rather than the focal point for the listener.
And the rest of the music is equally baffling. The guitar work is frenetic and driven, while feeling completely improvised and free. So too are the violin and bass - all seem to be playing whatever they want, and yet they coincide at the necessary moments (signaled by the loud, brash drums) and the cacophony finds unity and harmony.
The music is not what one expects - it sounds like modal Gregorian chant ran headlong into an improvisational heavy metal outfit, pushing it into the side of an experimental violinist. It's not for the faint of heart, and I'm not surprised when people hear it and don't like it. But I do - a lot.
Final verdict: Adore it (with a mind for befuddlement)
Wow. Just wow. This was my first introduction to Extra Life, and what an introduction it is. There is sort of a "kitchen sink" mentality going on here. But that is odd, because it isn't as if there are tons of instruments or such here. It is more the feeling. The songs have so much going on rhythmically, melodically and harmonically that they feel packed to the brim, even in the more sparse moments.
The vocals certainly stand out. I'm still not sure if that is a good thing or not, but unique they are. The vocal melodies often contrast against the music, and seem almost haphazard. However, I have no doubt that, despite the apparent chaos in the music, it is all very planned out.
The end result is music that is anything but comfortable. You aren't going to be humming any of these songs when the disc is done. In fact, you probably aren't even going to remember most of the music when it is over, until you have listened again and again. It is, however, interesting and fascinating if you can get over the high "price of admission".
Final Verdict: Explore it (but you're going to need to be very sober to not be nauseated by the musical twists and turns)