Mediation of Ecstatic Energy
Mediation of Ecstatic Energy, Dustin Wong's latest and the tail-end of a triptych of Thrill Jockey records, opens up with clattering and harsh guitar stabs propelled by throbbing bass in a tune named "The Big She" that sounds unexpectedly dark and industrial. For a musician renowned for squeezing a myriad of colors and shapes out of an electric guitar, it is clear within moments of putting on his new record that there's still plenty more to be squeezed.
Indeed the erstwhile Baltimorean, Ponytailer, and Ecstatic Sunshiner has expanded not only his guitar palette but also added more percussion and vocals to the mix. Unfortunately sparingly used vocals function largely as an instrument, obscured somewhat by delay and reverb, but they provide important flexibility. The album's more convincing and varied percussion-check out the syncopated martial snare drums on "Emerald Atmosphere"-also adds an essential layer to the music, preventing the album's tracks from feeling too similar and adding cohesion when the mix threatens to get too dense with rhythmic guitar riffs.
Wong's range in songwriting has also been expanded, with darker and heavier moments like the aforementioned opener, and also more chromatic and winding tracks like "Physical Consciousness Went In," which is based around a chromatically rising four-note loop. Whereas previous Dustin Wong albums felt more indebted to the sunny bliss of Ecstatic Sunshine and Ponytail, Mediation of Ecstatic Energy reveals new tonal ideas that give the music more variety. However, while the variety is important, some of the album's best moments are the more straightforward ones, such as the concise "Aura Peeled Off," which says all it needs to say in just over two minutes while still making room for a blistering fuzz-guitar solo.
For all its impressive qualities, the album can be, at 63 minutes, a little long on material and a little short on memorable melodies. And this is no furniture music, designed on purpose to sit in the background. Mediation of Ecstatic Energy demands attention with its restless and kinetic energy. Sometimes the knotty structures and near-constant layering make it hard for the melodies to pop out, and other times Wong prefers impressionistic noodling. The underwhelming number of quality hooks can threaten to tip Wong's music into virtuosic emptiness; fortunately, Wong is able to infuse the music with enough wonder and variety to keep the ship upright.