Best of What's Next: River City Extension

Music Features River City Extension
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Hometown: Toms River, New Jersey
Album: The Unmistakable Man
Band Members: Joe Michelini (guitar, piano, vocals), Jenn Fantaccione (cello), Michael Costaney (drums), Nick Cucci (djembe, vocals), James Ramirez (bass), Dan Melius (trumpet, vocals), Sam Tacon (vocals), Pat O’Brien (piano)
The Avett Brothers, Beirut, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Joe Michelini is fond of experiments.

Whether he’s adapting a recipe for Alfredo sauce or crafting a song, the River City Extension frontman is always looking to create something just a little bit different. And so it’s no surprise that his band boasts an eight-member roster that sounds like dozens more; on its debut LP, The Unmistakable Man (out now), the band crams banjo, cello, hand-claps, guitar, trumpet, a slew of percussion and both male and female vocals into thirteen tracks. On paper, it might seems like chaos; in reality, River City Extension molds the instrumental bric-a-brac into a completely cohesive whole.

That’s not to say there haven’t been bumps along the way, though. Any time eight musicians come together, there are bound to be moments of dischord, and Michelini admits as much. “For about a year we didn’t get along,” he says. “We used to hate each other. But we enjoyed playing music together. And it got to a point where we had to put all that aside and see the best in each other, and now we get along pretty well.”

It’s easy to feel like you’re lost in the crowd when you’re on stage with seven other musicians, the frontman admits, which is why he loves performing songs like “Ballad of Oregon,” a staple of the band’s live show, so much. “I think it gives everyone in the band a chance to showcase their talent,” he says. “I look around and I see everyone enjoying themselves, and that makes me happy.”

The Unmistakable Man follows up River City Extension’s 2009 EP N_autical Sabbatical_, a nine-song collection of eerie, frenetic folk-rock; the new album is more of a slow burn than an all-out blaze, but the band’s backwoodsy clamor sounds increasingly glorious. It’s the kind of secret that can’t be kept long—not that the band is angling for any level of fame. “If we get popular, we get popular,” Michelini says. “I just want to make a lot of people happy with our music.”