[…continued from last post]
Side one of “Ecstasy” capped with the dreampop of “Living Out Of Time” with the spotlight taken by vocalist Laurie Mayer’s expressive vocal and the biggest appearance of Grant Gilbert on this album on the smooth sax that closed the song out. Then the album opened side two with the fascinating descent into techno-dub that was “Mothdoom Ecstasy.” I remember seeing a magazine ad for their “Ode To Billie Joe” single and seeing that this had been the [non-LP at the time] B-side and wondered what a song with such an evocative name [albeit one which was probably referencing MDMA] might sound like. It sounded for all the world like a dub mix made of some other song, only with the original version wiped from the tape and all that remained was the dub mix. People sometimes talk about moving in this direction, but this was an excellent example of that rare event happening to its fullest!
The mix was just the sort of techno-psychedelia-dub that Colourbox [who recorded at Torch Song’s studios and sometimes employed Orbit on guitar] had also explored contemporaneously to Torch Song. Laurie Mayer only intoned the title dubbed out in a breathy fashion except for eh intact middle eight; leaving Orbit with his hands full in making the rest of the deconstructed music. Horse samples added to the unsettling vibe and I can only wonder what kind of sampler that Orbit could have afforded back then. Maybe the DS-3, which was an innovative 8-bit sampling card made for the Apple II computer designed by members of the band Mainframe?Considering all of the acid drenched guitar on the album, this song was explicitly designed as a trip.
Following that, “Nails In the Cross” was a return to the sort moody but darkly beautiful pop that was the middle ground of this album. This time out, Orbit harmonized with Ms. Mayer on the song’s chorus to good effect. The conga-driven exotica of the instro “The Zebra Room” thought nothing of juxtaposing deep synth squelches against the brief, proto-“Strange Cargo” material.
Much of the surrounding synth frivolity and dance tempos took a powder for the band’s cover of The VU’s “Venus In Furs.” The minimal arrangement here gave the most room to Orbit’s guitars moaning in slow-motion pain, though the synths did contribute some shading to the funereal paced cover version. Ms. Mayer didn’t convince with the verses, but she wore the chorus well enough.
Then, the anticlimactic capper of “Dia Del Muerto” seemed to be an outlier for the sort of less, interesting. more mainstream path that Orbit would pursue on his one and only solo album the next year. But the happy circumstance was that by then, he had gotten better at aiming for that sort of mainstream target more successfully.
“Ecstasy” was something of a mixed bag following the berserk majesty of “Wish Thing.” That album had offered an intoxicating high tech cocktail of ceaselessly inventive dance music with an almost psychedelic bent. This time out, there were a few songs that aimed for that target [“White Night,” “Mothdoom Ecstasy”] as well as having an even better techno cover version in the mind-blowing “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Elsewhere, Orbit’s penchant for soundtrack pieces that were limited to just one track on the debut album, ballooned to a third of the program here.
One of the pleasures of this eclectic album was its greater reliance on subdued acid rock guitar of the David Gilmour stripe in the capable hands of William Orbit. That was highly enjoyable. On the other hand, one can tell that the arrival of the uninteresting [to me, anyway] “Strange Cargo” series was very imminent after listening to “Ecstasy.” Of the three instros here, only “Spear” passed muster under the Torch Song umbrella. But even so, the heights of this album were so dazzling, that its brushes with mundanity still couldn’t hobble its spirit.
I just wish that Torch Song could have existed in this form for a few albums longer as they would have helped immeasurably with the mid-80s malaise that had affected almost all of my favorite musicians and bands at that time. Not that it mattered much, since this album was so far under the radar, that I didn’t even find out about it for another seven or eight years. And even then, finding a copy to buy took even longer! As it stood, when the third Torch Song album appeared in the late 90s, the critical juxtapositions of energy inherent in the band were all out of balance and the then comonplace ambient chillout vibe was as stale as last week’s bread.
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