It’s no secret that tragedy, rough times, and heartaches are the unfortunate muses behind many of the world’s most beloved albums. The raw feelings and emotions felt after hardships require a release that the feelings of contentment and happiness don’t normally demand, and as a result, we live in a world full of more great heavy tunes than happy ones. That’s life. But then there are the exceptions that come around every once in a while that, instead of creating more sadness out of misery, celebrate the absurdity of it all while appreciating the lessons learned. Izaak Opatz’ Extra Medium walks this fine line with plenty of grace and showmanship along the way.
The dynamic slow-burn opener “Passenger Seat”, expresses that sentiment right from the start. “Enough years go by loveless, I start planning my life alone with a dog I’ll name Ramona in a house that doesn’t have a phone”, Opatz sings as he resigns himself to a life of solitude after yet another breakup. Turns out, he goes on to find love in the very next verse and we never hear about Ramona again, demonstrating just how short-sighted we can be when our hearts are either hurting or bursting.
The sparse, indie-folk feel of “Passenger Seat” serves as the perfect jumping-off point for what turns out to be a thoughtfully paced album that spends its time weaving in and out of barroom road rockers (“Big Sandy”), organ accented indie go-go beats (“Wild Eyed George Bailey Heebie Jeebies”), and laid back mid-tempo alt-country vibes (“Mag-Lev Train”). The wide range of influences is also apparent in the storytelling and lyrics. “Home’s where I’ve got a full shampoo but/ no time to use it./ I can’t remember the last time I finished a bottle/ and threw it out.”, Opatz sings on “Shampoo”, tastefully exploring the concept of using a little picture to help see the big picture, a technique favored by David Byrne but also perfected by the country and folk greats throughout the years.
In another testament to the smart placement of each of these songs, Extra Medium wraps up similarly to how it began. “In the Light of a Love Affair”, is a tender acoustic send-off that, again, see’s Opatz discovering the beauty in what was once a struggle. “And these four lanes of brake lights, inching through Azusa/ used to would’ve had me pulling out my hair/ but now if I squint, they sort of look like roses/ in the light of a love affair.”, shows that the excitement of a new relationship can make one forgot how much they can’t stand something as universally hated as L.A. traffic.
What stands out on this outing from Opatz is the arrangements. While his first album, Mariachi Static, efficiently and effectively worked within the confines of a four-track recorder, Extra Medium, saw the sonic possibilities double with the introduction of co-producer, engineer, and drummer Malachi DeLorenzo’s eight-track. While this can run the risk of muddying the waters and trying to fix what’s not broken, the added layers instead served to compliment Opatz’s latently technical writing style. The result is a batch of thoughtfully orchestrated and exciting arrangements that can easily be stripped down and be just as compelling sung alone with an acoustic guitar on a front porch. The album may have been recorded in L.A., but Opatz currently resides in Missoula MT, and Extra Medium encapsulates that juxtaposition honestly and tastefully.