Ecstatic Vision’s Raw Rock Fury is a good-natured record that most people are gonna want to like. It’s hard not to smile when the first track, which is all of 17 seconds long, is called “Intro” and is pretty much a swooshing noise. A cursory listen reveals these guys know their Nuggets and have been in several garages, surely. The band has made a fun enough record, at least while it’s being played. In a way it may even be the perfect record for the U.S in 2017—all flash and no substance. Whether this was intentional…well, that’s highly doubtful, though some listeners may feel otherwise. If you’re wondering whether you will enjoy this record, look at the cover and you will know. Raw Rock Fury can be judged by its cover, presumably something the band is intrinsically aware of.
The record flies out of the starting gate with “You Got It (Or You Don’t),” a heavy octane, snare on the 1-2-3-4 that celebrates the MC5/Stooges-style—ahem—fury, hinted at in the title. But it’s a bit too easy. This track feels like it’s missing the first 10 minutes and that it’s something that should build up, Earthless-style, and that it hasn’t paid its dues. Maybe it’s the saxophone, maybe it’s the nod to classic punk, but this record overall has a very Rocket From The Crypt vibe. What it doesn’t have is the songwriting, which is a huge distinction from vibe. Raw Rock Fury makes you want to rock, but it feels cheap. You’re afraid you won’t respect yourself when it’s done.
Next up is “The Electric Step,” a proto-heavy psych tune divided up into two parts for, presumably, top secret reasons. Though if the shouts in the Mark Arm style (made famous by fellow Nuggets worshippers Mudhoney) don’t bring a smile to your face, you’re dead inside. “Electric” is a tune that could have been recorded any time in the last 40 years and, while not without its charms, it is also hamstrung by the same sense of “let’s gun this motherfucker” fairly early on. Too soon, too soon. Let it ride, kids. All peaks and no valleys. Something something make jack something.
“Keep It Loose,” keeps up the forward motion: “you gotta keep it real,” “you gotta let me know,” and so forth. The Grateful Dead have attained a shocking cultural relevance in recent years, so maybe they’re an acceptable influence now. It’s hard to know with the hipsters and their hipstering and all. But this song sounds like it could be a Pigpen-rave-up straight out of the middle of a sweet “Lovelight” from 1968. Which is great, but those improvised blooze swaggers were in the middle of the song, not the song, which only serves to call attention to the key flaw here. Pig knew how to build the song so that the final verse fucking rocked. Ecstatic Vision have conjured up a record of high speed codas and outros. Except for “Intro,” natch.
And now, the arrival of the uber-finale, “Twinkling Eye,” divided into three parts. If you’ve been paying attention, there’s an assumption that this is gonna be rockin’. Perhaps these guys are being smarty, because they finally give listeners a build up with the first part of the trilogy before kicking it back to the red with, yes, a snare on all four beats and some raw, rocking fury, which, inevitably continues to part 3.
This review has referenced both the Dead and Earthless, both bands who rely on a fair amount of improvisation to do their thing. Is it worthwhile to view Raw Rock Fury through the lens of improvisation rather than evaluating them as a songwriting band? Perhaps, but it still comes up short, largely due to the lack of dynamics described above. Good improvisation relies on an ebb and flow and, at its most successful spectrum, can be conversational in nature. Certainly, the greatest jazz improvisations fall into this category. And while rock jamming is not jazz, it has elements that, regrettably, Ecstatic Vision does not bring to the table.
In conclusion, it’s helpful to circle back to the Rocket From The Crypt comparison. The most obvious difference between these two outfits is amount of self-awareness, “winky winky” composition (as well as RFTC having better songs, but that’s not the point). RFTC boils a composition down to its essence and then piles a huge arrangement on top of that, to the point where some of their tunes are about 10% below parody, a trick that took them a while to master. As evidence, see frontman John “Speedo” Reis invoking The Big Bopper for grins on some of their earliest stuff. But they outgrew this or at least recognized it and dialed up the smarts. And Ecstatic Vision may be an absolute blast live, where the energy level created is a bigger mark of success. But on record, it’s the tracers without the trip. There’s something there, but it’s an afterthought and you can’t quite remember it. Bad ass, dude.