Former loop-loving Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong’s Mediation Of Ecstatic Energy completes his trilogy of albums that has included 2010’s excellent Infinite Love and last year’s not as good but still decent Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads. And on only a few listens, it’s clear that Mediation Of Ecstatic Energy is by far the most dynamic of not only these releases but of Wong’s entire career, not only on an instrumental level, but on an emotional level. It invites the prospect of getting lost in the universe of stories Wong creates.
For starters, two of the immediate standouts on Mediation Of Ecstatic Energy are two tracks that Wong put out prior to the whole album’s release: assertive opener The Big She and the uplifting Liberal Christian Youth Ministry. The former is a fitting introduction to the album not in terms of introducing some sort of stylistic cohesion, but rather in terms of establishing that what this album will be different to anything Wong has done before.
The Big She’s cutting, repetitive guitar work gives it a beat that’s almost aggressively danceable and totally machine-like and futuristic. Towards its end, the song almost becomes krautrock and is a radical stylistic change for Wong, reminiscent of what The Art Of Almost was for Wilco. Meanwhile, Liberal Christian Youth Ministry is punky and distorted but also beautiful, as shoegaze guitars battle with higher-pitched staccato guitars and arpeggiated guitar lines for attention. But just as the track seems set to become something of a pizza with too many toppings, over time, it exemplifies the concept of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. That is, while at first you can clearly hear every individual aspect of the song build, as the song progresses, it becomes diluted and nothing short of amazing. The more instruments added, the less you can distinctly hear the clear menace of each, as a quite perfect atmosphere takes over.
In reality, though, while The Big She and Liberal Christian Youth Ministry are certainly great individual songs, Mediation Of Ecstatic Energy is best taken in as a whole. The Big She segues perfectly into stunning second track Emerald Atmosphere, which features prickly finger-picking from Wong. More impressive is that Emerald Atmosphere is so different from what precedes it and what comes after it, but Wong’s journey never feels forced or too up and down. It travels in so many different directions, but Wong’s dexterity and incredible ear for sonic shifts makes the whole thing almost feel obvious, but in a good way. An artist less conscious of the purely emotive forces of his music might get lost in all of its headiness; Wong, on the other hand, makes the layers and loops and orchestral swells of a frenetic track like Imaginelectric tangible and inviting.
Lastly, tracks like Aura Peeled Off show Wong’s undeniable pop influences. As much as he’s likely a fanatic of experimental loop artists like Terry Riley and Brian Eno and experimental guitarists like John Fahey, Wong’s use of tone is also inspired by Brian Wilson and other 1960s surf rock. Aura Peeled Off places him alongside another guitar virtuoso, Marnie Stern, as Wong’s ability to lead with his finger-picking over a comparatively steady beat and rhythm guitar recalls Stern’s most upbeat, poppiest songs. And Wilson’s angelic voice can almost be heard in the guitar tones of Out Of The Crown Head in between the noise. Which leads to the realisation: while the music world has seen its fair share of artists use their voices as an instrument, Wong, on the other hand, uses his instrument as his voice.