San Francisco’s Extra Classic have recorded their debut album Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like A Laser Beam on 8-track tape and analogue equipment from the 60’s and 70’s “in order to capture the sonic quality of old Jamaican recordings." The authenticity of their musicianship is evident in the sense of feeling and care taken over every beat, note and effect during the moment it is played. This gives the album an exciting raw energy that can sometimes be lost in the safety of the digital age, especially within the dub genres.
‘Congo Rebel’ is a perfect opening track, a dangerous and mysterious, psychedelic entrance to the jungle, brimming with subtle but killer hooks. It begins with an alluring vocal from Adrianne A Verhoeven that warps into a drum riff and drops straight into a flourish of dub bass lines from Alex deLanda, phaser induced funk rhythm guitar and the key choral melody. The song exits on a drum crescendo coupled with a ghostly vocal from Verhoeven to complete that entirely live sound.
The album continues on a similar vein in 'Metal Tiger' with a more pronounced electric guitar riffing halfway between Keith Richards and Lindsey Buckingham. Despite the reggae foundation of this album it is clear that other influences are present, which actually creates a very honest sound. This is a band that listens to reggae and wanted to create an album of that kind, but couldn’t help but reveal more of the music within them: touring and working with bands and artists such as Modest Mouse, The Donkeys, Papercuts, The Fruit Bats, The Handsome Furs and Conor Oberst is bound to have had some effect. Regardless it is true that Extra Classic make their music with passion, but also with soul.
The optimistic and defiant ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’ steers the album towards a more traditional Studio One reggae sound with less of a spacey-rock vibe. ‘Creation’ picks this up with a beat that takes you skanking on a blazing Caribbean beach. This marks a turning point in the album as it quickly chills to a down-tempo casual lyric-less dub of ‘Electric Stars’, a track that would not sound out of place on Lee Perry’s 1974 album The Quest.
‘Give Them the Same’ is a brief return to the guitar-solo infused reggae that opened the album but it is ‘Demon Hit’ that makes the real impact at this stage, albeit with less gusto. Delicious melodies and harmonies sit on another relaxed bass line, with the lyric “Fill my cup, (fill it up), let’s get high” pretty much realising the tone of the album. It’s a shame we’ll have to wait half a year in the UK before we can listen to this album in the warm sun.
‘Lesser Pan’ returns to the low mysterious feel, from the beginning of the album, but elevates for the chorus in a sweet sounding chord progression that leads to a wicked melody. The band is jamming in their typically laid back manner which makes the live sound of the album continually clear. ‘Angel Eyes’ loses the bass and drum riffs for Verhoeven to be accompanied solely by guitar arpeggios and vocal harmonies. The sound is not unlike Beach House or Warpaint (who, incidentally, are also signed by Manimal). The song has its pleasant moments but the repeated phrase “Angel Eyes you are the one” feels too individual to the writer and consequently a little irrelevant in the make-up of this album.
Luckily the final tune is a belter. The sound of the melodies and progressions are strongly familiar with a Fleetwood Mac Rumours vibe; that has appeared at times throughout the entire album; but syncopated backing vocals on the chorus give it a real punch and remind us that this is fundamentally a reggae album. The passion in ‘Give Me Your Love’ is loud and emotional, the power of which is staggering as a closing piece.
Despite wanting to capture the sonic quality of old Jamaican recordings by using traditional equipment: the musicality of the artists brings Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like A Laser Beam fully into relevance for a modern audience. The effect is an album that although sounds as though it could have been made during the heyday of Gregory Isaac, and Lee Perry clearly belongs firmly in the 21st Century.