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Living in Extraordinary Times *
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  • Living in Extraordinary Times is a title that echoes Superchunk's galvanizing 2018 album, What a Time to Be Alive, and if James couldn't be further apart from that venerable North Carolina indie rock band, one thing is for certain: these two veteran alt-rock bands are both taking stock of the political unrest of 2018 while adhering to their own idiosyncratic aesthetic. Being one of the most idiosyncratic bands in modern rock history, this means Living in Extraordinary Times is plenty quirky, even if James address the Trumpian turmoil in a direct fashion that speaks both to their inherent grandiosity and Tim Booth's allergy to metaphors. Booth raves about "fake news" on "Heads," one of the many explicit allusions to meme double-speak and other modern plagues scattered throughout the album, but even if his words are foregrounded, they're overwhelmed by the sheets of sounds and surplus of ideas teeming throughout the album. Separating from Max Dingel, who produced 2014's Le Petite Mort and 2016's Girl at the End of the World, James work with producer Charlie Andrew, who has previously helmed records for Wolf Alice and Alt-J, and Beni Giles, a pair who create a glassy, intimidating sheen that shimmers intensely throughout the album's hour. It's a sound so towering that it suggests a grand concept, but Living in Extraordinary Times isn't a song suite; it's a record that reflects how James always swing for the fences. As such, the album can be a little exhausting for those who aren't true believers -- there is plenty going on in the songs and productions but no direct way inside -- but can prove to be fascinating for the dedicated sort who choose immersion over skimming. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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