Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses: Tune in, Shut up, Freak Out

ecstatic vision for the masses

From cosmic fuckery to interstellar shove-blues, Ecstatic Vision‘s For the Masses is a space-weirdo dreamboat of wash-creation and spacial anomaly. You know that video where the bullet hits the watermelon in super-slow-motion and the whole back end of the thing explodes and it’s a glorious, sticky mess even though the bullet itself has already traveled through and gone? Ecstatic Vision are the bullet and space rock is the watermelon. For the Masses is the Philly-based psych rockers’ third album and second release through Heavy Psych Sounds behind the 2018 covers EP, Under the Influence (discussed here), and they the four-piece would seem to have blown the doors off their own approach, which was already fairly open across their two prior albums, 2017’s Raw Rock Fury (review here) and 2015’s Sonic Praise (review here), both released through Relapse. It is their first long-player with Ricky Kulp on drums — though he appeared on the EP last year as well — and he joins founding guitarist/vocalist/etc.-ist Doug Sabolik and bassist Michael Field Connor as well as guitarist/saxophonist/flutist Kevin Nickles, who played on the first record as a guest and soon signed on as a full-fledged member, as they direct themselves into the further reaches of way gone, seeming to find new echelons of obliteration en route.

Effects swirl, synth and the periodic bursts of sax obscure echo-drenched vocals, but the motorik rhythmic drive is unmistakable, even behind the penultimate “The Magic Touch,” the entirety of which feels like it was being recorded with the mics set up across the room from where it was being played. Three longer pieces, “Shut up and Drive” (7:14), “Yuppie Sacrifice” (8:05) and closer “Grasping the Void” (7:11) help define the seven-track/35-minute offering, but even that definition they provide is loose in the spirit of earliest Monster Magnet doing their best stoned-biker Hawkwind, and For the Masses retains a volatility of spirit that doesn’t so much take the time to earn the right to go where it pleases by establishing rules and then defying them as just cut out the middle man and do whatever the fuck it wants. There is no substitute for efficiency in this regard.

If those who decry heavy rock and roll’s redundant riffs and ready-for-pasture aesthetic can’t hear the capital-‘n’ New bleeding through Ecstatic Vision‘s work here, the problem isn’t with the riffs. With the fading-in percussive intro “Sage Wisdom” launching with an initial two minutes of swirl, For the Masses begins with an immediately off-kilter feel. A wave of synth and blown-out sample take forward position then disappear as the percussion stops and the drone fades into the start of “Shut up and Drive,” the swirl and fuzz-bass of which are righteous from the outset. Laced with solos and tripped-out echo on the vocals, more percussion and not at all the last hypnotic groove they’ll offer, it’s as much a lead-in as it is a lead-out for your brain, which the band seem to be actively working to melt down and, presumably, reshape into a gaudy gold chain.

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The guitar howls and winds and the bass and drums hold on lockdown even in the takeoff of the song’s later reaches, which are consuming before they’re also consumed, ending, of course, with an upward current of synth and turn to the far-back, already-gone “Yuppie Sacrifice,” the distance of which lends a mellow vibe to what isn’t actually at all a mellow progression, For the Masses‘ longest track enforcing its mania through hand-drums and keyboard undulations even before the drums snap into a ranting verse. The second half of the song? Straight-up past-the-point-of-no-return-oh-was-there-a-point-we-passed-oh-well-whatever fuckall jam that’s mesmerizing and turns to the all-drive cosmic punk thrust of “Like a Freak,” with Sabolik‘s sneer and squeal more central in the mix and a runtime cut by more than half to lend a further sense of urgency. Somehow they still manage to find room to completely blow it out, as one would hope, frankly, for a song called “Like a Freak,” and their hurry-up-and-drop-acid-style throb isn’t done yet.

But first, a bit of jazz. Yes, the sax comes into play on the subsequent two-minute title-track — and they’re into side B now and ready to get even weirder — and that lends a free-jazz improv style to keyboard insistence and grunted-out spoken vocals, manic drumming and whatever else would seem to have shown up that day. It is space rock drawn to its logical maximum, purposefully un-prog and all the more thoughtful for that. A slower line of synth at the beginning of “The Magic Touch” signals a shift to some chill, but it’s still got plenty of movement as Ecstatic Vision dare their listenership to keep up with them as they chase this or that theoretical impossibility. The importance of Connor‘s bass in “The Magic Touch,” as in “Shut up and Drive,” isn’t to be discounted, as it gives heft and a grounding complement to the float and reach of the guitar and keyboards, with the drums and percussion ranging beyond this or that convention. In its final measures, the guitar comes forward to hammer home the central riff, but it’s the bass that’s been doing so all along, and it proves crucial as well in “Grasping the Void,” which reads as much like a mission statement for For the Masses as any kind of description of what the song is actually up to.

Guitar emerges at about 90 seconds in to drive the turn to the verse, which is anthemic in a kind of anti-hero vein, soaking wet with effects and piloting farther out of the known universe. Is there a last guitar solo to bid farewell as Ecstatic Vision exit galaxy stage left? Why hell yes, there most certainly is, and a quick wash of synth thereafter draws down quickly to end the record in a sudden-seeming cut to silence that makes one wonder if perhaps they found that void after all. Seems it’s the place to be, and fair enough. Ecstatic Vision have never been short on attitude, and they aren’t here either, but what feels different about For the Masses is that they’re using the studio itself and the mix as instruments and toying with atmosphere as well as with effects and arrangement elements. These experiments work, and tie gorgeously to those being done with the songs themselves in structure and execution, making For the Masses sound all the more like what Ecstatic Vision have been trying to capture all along.

Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses (2019)

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