I have a big ol' crush on the idea of Ecstatic Sunshine: "two guitars, two humans," according to both their website and their MySpace page, the latter of which is too ugly to link. Some of the tracks on their album Freckle Wars are fantastic, especially the ones that come up toward the end of the album; the first few feel more like exercises than songs. By the time you get to "Golden Rule" or "Swirling Hearts," though - tracks eight and nine of twelve, respectively - you're in near-prog territory, and the chops are starting to joust with the hooks for privilege of position, which is way cool and quite welcome, since as of right now the band's formidable chops are a half-lap ahead of their hooks. When they're in full gallop, Ecstatic Sunshine remind me a little of an Alabama acoustic duo called Flop, who explored similar two-guys-playing territory in the early nineties. (For those keeping score, this is the most obscure reference I have ever made.) One gets the feeling that ES is one of those bands who will be poorly served by the indie club tradition of putting a band on a stage and having a bunch of people standing around staring at them: all the less interesting aspects of what they're doing ("how amazing! they can play their instruments!") will get the focus in such an environment. What's good about this band is the sound they make, not the fact that they're able to make it.
Generally speaking I wouldn't give advice, since really, what do I know? But the one thing I'd like to hear more of on the next Ecstatic Sunshine album is production. The production here is very much in the what-the-band-sounds-like tradition. There's nothing inherently wrong with that tradition; it suits some bands beautifully. But take, for example, the drop-down-to-one-guitar moment around the two-minute mark of "Ramontana." What you'll hear is the sound of a single electric guitar coming through an amp with what I assume is a little amp reverb, though it could be the room. This moment might have been dramatic; spectral; distant; intense; lost; even a little ominous. There are a number of ways one might have gone with the tone. But because of the verite approach employed here, it's none of those things; it's just a bit less of what you were getting when both guitarists were playing a minute before. An engaged producer could go to town on a moment like this, using all sorts of techniques I'm not well-informed enough to name; but I'm not willing to blame whoever manned the boards for what's missing here. Ultimately, it's the band's decision. This is a band that should embrace the studio environment as an opportunity to expand their interesting and absorbing vision; great things could happen. On the last track, "Little Dipper Big Dipper," there's a hint that they're leaning this way already - the tones start to shift and deepen, and one of the guys starts saying "hey" or "hi" rhythmically. (Occasional interjections like these are the only vocals on the record.) Quickly, but not suddenly, two dimensions locate a third: it's almost as if a visual element has been introduced. The texture deepens. The field of vision blurs a little. It feels natural.
It's a good moment, one of several like it from the album's second half. I hope Ecstatic Sunshine makes more albums and plays around with the knobs on the mixing board more next time. I have the feeling that they have a masterpiece in them. Freckle Wars isn't it yet, but it'll do for now.
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