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Everything Ecstatic

Even If The New Album From Local Duo Turned Trio Doesn't Sound Like What It's Doing Now

Jefferson Jackson Steele
RIFF RAFF: (from left) Ecstatic Sunshine's Matthew Papich and Dustin Wong didn't get the memo about not posing in front of brick walls for band photos.

(RE)MAKING THE BAND: (From Left) Matthew Papich, Kieran Gillen, and David Zimmerman Embrace The Drone as Ecstatic Sunshine Mk. Iii (Iv?).

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Ecstatic Sunshine

By Michael Byrne | Posted 2/6/2008

Ecstatic Sunshine is no longer the band you thought you knew. A year ago, it was the guitar duo of Dustin Wong and Matthew Papich making fantastic music built upon barely affected riff acrobatics. They were making the sort of songs that, yes, screamed sunshine and plants bursting forth and good soaring vibes. But after some two years of what was starting to amount to shtick--and imitators had begun to follow, though Papich is loathe to name names--it had ceased to be ecstatic. "I was sick of being the `riff dudes' band," Papich says bluntly at a Mount Vernon pub.

Last fall Ecstatic Sunshine ceased to be the riff dudes' band. Wong, the band's co-founder and guitarist for local art-squeal outfit Ponytail, made a decision to play full time with the latter, leaving Papich without a band. "At first, [I] was like, `Oh, I'm going to go to grad school,'" he says.

Instead he saw an opportunity. This was a time to pursue the band's original ideal. "A lot of sounds at once, instead of having it be like this ADD sound," Papich says. "We're always hoping it would end up more like a drone. Like all of these sounds would end up more than the sum of their parts. . . . The melodies came from Dustin, and the new stuff isn't really melodic."

Indeed. Ecstatic Sunshine's forthcoming album, Way (Cardboard), resolves nicely into coral-hued, skyscraping drone packages. Opener "B" starts in classic ES fashion in racing, dueling, vaguely Oriental riffs, but instead of splashing to the floor, the guitar notes hang suspended, forming into bright, drifting clouds and mists of looping, wavering thrum, like the purrs of overhead power lines in the land of happy mushrooms.

The rest of the record rings its way along in two songs' worth of guitar-birthed chime stacked into anti-melodic strata, before finally breaking through again into a distinctly rock 'n' roll coda--although still without the drums and stuff. Nothing much "happens" in the sense of traditional music; the songs just move in a way that suggests they're under their own power, with maybe the band standing at the perimeter nudging and guiding them along.

At the time of the recording the band still included Wong, and it shows in those opening and closing minutes of near-shout and luminescence. And as such, Way is more of a document of where the band was at a particular place in time, a snapshot of an in-between place for Ecstatic Sunshine; Kieran Gillen had just begun to do electronics for the brief trio.

"We can't really play that record anymore," Papich says. "By the time the record's out, it's old. It's just that type of band."

That particular band--two guitar lines running straight into Gillen's mixer and looped live--played for a few weeks, touring with Dirty Projectors, before Wong departed, leaving Papich and Gillen. Best friends from their days studying in Maryland Institute College of Art's sculpture department, that duo decided to continue the band. To Papich, including electronics was a key part of bringing the band to his ideal. "I've been way more interested in electronic stuff for a while," he says. "It's a lot of what I listen to."

Then, Ecstatic Sunshine went even further. While Gillen's role has much to do with working off Papich's guitar as a source sound for manipulation, that sound was still a constraint, still the band's spine--no matter how affected. The duo brought in David Zimmerman as a second electronics guy--someone with a laptop full of samples.

This trio lineup revealed something radically different at a Floristree show a few weeks back. Guitar had very little to do with it. Rock music had nothing to do with it, and the music wasn't immediate or easy. It trembled and made its way into the same moments of sunshine bliss--which used to arrive via the expressway of electric guitar melody--through a developing patchwork of disembodied yet warm (always warm) and familiar sounds.

And Papich's excitement about this re-formed band--he insists that it isn't a "new" band--shines through in person. "It's a different that I like," he says. "I'm more excited about the band than I have been in a year, year and a half. There've have been times before, and I'm sure there will times again, where [I] feel like I'm getting stuck."

Later in the conversation, Papich grabs his rocks glass on the table excitedly. "I just wish I could plug into something--like this cup," he says. "And strum. And it would play the song. There's something ideal about that. Now everything can be sourced. Not just the guitar."

All the changes leave a band as unpredictable--and, yes, ecstatic--as it's ever been. Beyond actually leaving your house to see a show, you might not even get a chance to hear the Ecstatic Sunshine that exists as of right now. "I don't totally want to disorient that audience," Papich says about any plans of recording another new album, one that would reflect the changes of the past year to introduce it to old fans. "It sucks to get into a band and already feel like there's too much to deal with at the start."

Maybe that was only how he felt at that moment. "I'd like to make a really fucked-up dub record," he admits later. "It's in the air."

E-mail Michael Byrne

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