Rock between wars: Ecstatic Sunshine

Pub date October 31, 2006
WriterAri Messer
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Vocalless but intensely lyrical electric-guitar duo Ecstatic Sunshine take risks on their first non-CD-R release, Freckle Wars (Carpark) — namely by eschewing a drummer or even a drum machine despite a tendency to craft manic post-rock buildups that seem to predict explosive toms and thundering cymbals. But these happy rockers are more interested in preparing sunshine than predicting rain. For two guys with guitars, they make remarkably unindulgent music.
“Most of the songs took us months to write,” Ecstatic Sunshiner Dustin Wong said on the phone from the group’s Baltimore practice space. It’s no accident that the second guitar — or one of them anyway; they’re well blended — seems to speak with a witty, melodic voice on tunes like the cascading “Power Ring,” which sounds like a deconstructed Kaki King tune, and “Beetle,” which resonates like an early Nintendo soundtrack made with an open guitar tuning on a beat-up Strat. When the Japan-raised Wong went back to Tokyo for a summer, co-Sunshiner Matthew Papich “sent e-mails with MP3s of new ideas,” Wong said. “He would record one part of the song at a time — an intro, for example — then I would record another track and send it back.” “Power Ring” is one such song. It’s as if they’ve boiled their musical ideas down to their essence.
Next on the phone, Papich told the same story, audibly excited about the musical friendship, which has only grown stronger since they signed to Carpark Records after founder Todd Hyman found out about them through Baltimore City Paper. Both musicians feel supported by the local scene. “For me, what distinguishes the scene in Baltimore — at least the one that we’re a part of — is its sense of humor and whimsy. It’s very positive, and everyone has a good time at shows,” Wong explained.
Papich and Wong met in art school when Wong, after completing two years at the California College of the Arts, transferred to the Maryland Institute College of Art. Papich had only played in grindcore bands — and not much since high school — before he started jamming with Wong for a friend’s art project.
They saw a similar spark in each other — perhaps the drive to make music with the wild vision and focused craft required by the visual arts world. “We were working with more abstract structures where we don’t repeat things,” Wong said.
There isn’t a boring moment on Freckle War’s 12 zippy, bittersweet tunes, though some sound raw — as in scratchy and frenetic — for the sake of getting someone’s attention. But so what? Wong left the CCA and San Francisco behind for no particular reason — if only we can listen with the same abandon.
Leaving San Francisco meant leaving old musical ideas behind. “Sometimes we get too comfortable with a certain structure, and then we break through that comfort zone,” he said. “To be comfortable is to be boring, and that’s not a place that I want to be in for writing music.” (Ari Messer)
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