The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic: Sending out the Exploration TeamPosted in Reviews on March 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
As lead guitarist in Monster Magnet from 1993-2010, Ed Mundell contributed to some of the most essential American heavy psych and heavy rock put to tape. Exploratory albums like Superjudge and Dopes to Infinity led to the more straightforward and commercial Powertrip and God Says No, and while the band settled into that aesthetic, Mundell continued to show his affiliation with heavy psych and traditional classic rock ethics in The Atomic Bitchwax, a project he left after releasing two full-lengths and an EP upon relocating to California circa 2004. His tenure would continue for more than half a decade with Monster Magnet and the Bitchwax continued on and have thrived against the expectations of many in his absence, but Mundell began to explore a range of psychedelic jams in the years subsequent, beginning with a track contribution by an instrumental trio called The Formula to the High Volume compilation put out by High Times magazine in ’04. Gradually, this jammy impulse led to the formation of The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, and toward the end of the last decade, the band began playing out here and there on the West Coast, low key. Shows were jams, basically, with Mundell joined by bassist Collyn McCoy (Trash Titan) and drummer Rick Ferrante (Sasquatch), but sooner or later an album was bound to happen, and when it finally did, Snail’s Matt Lynch stepped in to record at his Mysterious Mammal Studios.
The resulting self-titled full-length (released through the band’s own Orbit Unlimited imprint) is probably too layered with psychedelic effects, backwards guitar, Echoplex, and leads to completely represent The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic’s live show, but at the root of each of the album’s nine tracks is an organic sounding jam that’s simply been built upon. Commonalities exist on songs like “Hello to Oblivion” to early The Atomic Bitchwax, and perhaps that’s to McCoy and Ferrante’s credit as a versatile rhythm section as much as it is to Mundell, who leads with no shortage of twists and turns in his intricate riffing. They are, true to form, a powerful trio, and the album – instrumental but for an intro spoken by the writer Harlan Ellison that appears reprinted on the inside of the gatefold digi-liner – essentially works as a showcase for their chemistry, playing out with immersive, driving psychedelia over the course of just under 55 minutes. Sasquatch guitarist Keith Gibbs appears on second track “Exploration Team,” donating a solo in complement to Mundell, and flourishes of sitar and extra percussion appear on the Eastern-keyed “The Man with a Thousand Names,” but for a good portion of the album, it’s McCoy, Mundell and Ferrante on their own in outer-headspace, the backwards guitar and warm bass tone of intro cut “Unassigned Agent X-27” providing lead-in for “Exploration Team”’s winding riffs and immediately engaging fuzz. As with most of the material on the album, riffs feel plotted out beforehand – that is, for how well McCoy plays off Mundell’s guitar with bass fills, I don’t think he’s hearing this stuff for the first time as though it were made up on the spot in the studio – and changes are positioned well, guitars emerging, receding, making way for the bass and then coming forward again, but the underlying core is organic and working on a time-tested ethic of players in a room playing. Everything else is added around that central idea.
While that goes to deepen the actual listening experience, The UEMG’s Hendrixian jam-ready modus probably would’ve come through no matter what they put on top. Even as he takes an extended, soulful solo in “Get off My World!,” Mundell seems to leave room for the groove Ferrante and McCoy ride, and the result is one of the self-titled’s more engaging moments of laid back heavy psychedelia, produced crisply but not overly clean, and a distinguishing factor between The UEMG and Mundell’s work in his past outfits, the real character of the band emerging even as the track fades into “7000 Years through Time,” and the signature style of winding riffs is revived. Structured into two vinyl sides with cuts both just over 11:40 ending each one, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic is well symmetrical as an album, whatever spontaneous characteristics it might present, and the band works ably within that sphere. Perhaps after so many years in Magnet, Mundell couldn’t help but give this record a sense of structure, even as comparably off the rails as it might seem on the surface with the difference of approach. Either way, it’s a stronger, richer listen for it, and with “7000 Years through Time” running into the extended “The Third Eye” to end the first half, their cosmic flow is well underway, only moving farther out into the far out with the longer jam, which starts out barn-burner fast, but eases into a slower groove toward the middle to rock a build near the end with some of McCoy’s best basslines of the album, holding the song together in its stillest moments and driving it forward toward the end at its most raucous.