Artist – Electro Cult Circus
Album / Label – Mystery Box / Secret Song Records
Rating – 7 / 10
Art. It’s a beautiful three letter word that defies definition.
What is art? Easy. Art is whatever you want it to be. Many think of art as paintings, music, or Clayton Kershaw’s curveball. You might think this article is art. You might see a sunset as art, although some would argue who the artist is in that case. There is no right or wrong answer to this question.
One of the most wondrous things about Columbus’ Electro Cult Circus is that their art is almost all-encompassing. Their visual showcase generally includes elaborate costumes, burlesque dancers, and even a trampoline. I’ve seen them perform with a horn section, keyboards, multiple percussionists, singers, and a host of other oddities on stage.
In fact, the first time we sat down with the band’s singer and guitarist, Casey Ward, he told us “you’ll never see the same ECC show twice; otherwise we’ve done our job wrong.”
But I can’t show you singer Jessica Ward’s signature dance moves in this review. You can’t see flautist Shaunna Moore’s signature smile or drummer Michael Ortiz’s perfectly groomed beard. You have no idea what glorious suit guitarist Mike Folker is wearing, or what hat bassist Salvatore Porchia might be donning. Hell, I don’t even know if Casey was wearing clothes when he recorded his parts on this record, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination.
The question then becomes, what happens when you strip away the glamorous and glistening aesthetic side of the band? The raw materials left over create a musical journey that, if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine what you might be enjoying while they perform. Mrs. Ward once told me, “We like to be a multimedia experience, where you can see the music you’re hearing,” and I’m here to tell you that their newest record, Mystery Box, does exactly that.
The aforementioned sextet comprises the current core members of the band, but their ranks are often changing. On the album liner notes you also see percussionist Kyle Davis (from the Devil Doves) and violinist Traci Lipscomb of Qiet fame, but who knows what mysterious guests might also appear?
The aptly titled Opening groans and rumbles and gives you a bunch of fun noises to ponder on, surely as preparation for the upcoming auditory expedition. If you look at the album cover, you’ll see a spaceship and a picturesque landscape that is not unlike a darker version of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Imagine yourself stepping into that spaceship for this musical journey.
Disaster Divine is heavy on the percussion and has a groovy feel to it with a fantastic vocal harmony between the Wards and Folker. “We’re out of our minds, we travel through time, to this disaster divine,” shows you just what the band enjoys writing about on this funky journey. I don’t think the band could have picked a better song to showcase their rocking side on and to open a record with.
Croatoan Tree punches early and punches hard percussively, and carries the namesake of the record. “Dance in our Mystery Box, as the overlords decide – which ones deserve to live, which ones deserve to die.” The guitars are loose and brazen, and there’s a spicy solo peppered in for good measure along with the bizarre building keys on the chorus. The song plays right into Acoustikitty, which feels tribally influenced at the beginning before settling down into a bizarre spiral of sound, almost as if being played into subharmonic space. There are no actual lyrics on this one, and you might wanna listen to it twice if you really want to pick out every little bizarre bit of sound that spikes into your eardrums.
Each song on the record segues into the next, as if your journey is uninterrupted by space or time. On Side Effects, the band brings the guitars and vocal harmonies back to the forefront. In fact, the harmonies are so interspersed that Casey Ward sounds like an entirely different human on this track, adding to his “Oddfellow” persona.
Anything You Want sounds like it was carved out of a late ‘60s horror-rock album, with a creepy violin and perky flute notes sneaking up behind and around you like twisting sonic vines. This song also ends with another religious guitar solo that you simply cannot skip. On the flip side, The Red Road takes you down another mish-mash of musical notes and nuttiness that even I have a hard time explaining to you. We’re only seven songs into this journey so far and it seems that the band wrote each track to be even more perplexing than the last.
Starslutt opens with a big sexy bass-line and is graced by the glorious lead vocals of Jessica Ward. The rest of the band gives way to their alien leader on this one, and it lends a nice change of pace as we pass the midway point of the record. If there was any song on this record that should have dancing, it is absolutely this one. Golden Ghost continues the exotic bass work and splashes a few zesty flute notes throughout. There is a more acerbic tone on the lyrics that you might miss behind the upbeat and spicy musical parts. There’s also another blistering guitar solo on the end, in case your hairs aren’t standing on end just yet.
A tiny blip of an electronic heartbeat opens up Disembodied Heart before the drums kick in to drive the song forward. I think it might be my favorite song on the the record; the music catches you, the lyrics raise your eyebrows and Folker’s vocals pair well with the Ward duo on harmony. It’s the kind of song that just gets stuck in your head and makes you go back for seconds (or thirds) once it’s all said and done.
Once the heart stops beating, a soft acoustic guitar steers you down Uncanny Valley, a song that makes you wonder if it was actually the same band playing the last three songs you heard. Is it folk? Avant-Garde? Is it rock? Nay, it is art, and it defies your genre-labeling. The arrows on this time-travel machine seem to be spinning in every direction now. Considering that the two previous tracks were over five minutes each, Uncanny Valley almost seems like it ends before it begins at 2:50.
Love You No More has a recorded live feel, with a crowd bustling in the beginning while the music seems to trail behind the humming voices. The song tells of a broken relationship, and in the latter part turns its lyrical attack on the singer himself. The crowd unfortunately seems unimpressed, with only one person clapping. Casey told me that was done intentionally.
“Just like our live show,” he laughed, “minimal applause!”
One by One opens with a detuned guitar and a crackling vinyl sound running in the background. The band loves to play with different recording styles, and Jessica had the idea to make this one sound like it was coming from an old phonograph in the 1930s. Did I mention these folks were weird? One by One has her asking “are we just dirt, are we a galaxy?” before someone literally punches an old piano at the end.
The penultimate track on the record is Conductor and it brings us back to 2019, I think. Personally, my head is still spinning from the last two, but we’ve made it this far so we must persevere. 15 tracks might seem like a challenge for many bands, but ECC have managed to keep things fresh and interesting throughout. If nothing else, you could put the record on shuffle and you’d get an equally chaotic mix of music as if you listened to it top to bottom.
Closing starts out sounding like it’s being played on a hurdy gurdy and then suddenly cuts out for half a minute, before a chorus of wind chimes settles in. At the two minute mark the band starts playing again along with John F. Kennedy’s famous Cold War conspiracy and secrecy speech. I’m not sure what else you expected when you opened this box, but there you have it.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think you can listen to this record without finding something that you might like. It’s not heavy in any direction, but it is definitely not lacking anywhere. If you’re looking for boring, you’re in the wrong place. If you want a record that makes you think, then this is the record for you. It’s definitely the strangest musical composition I’ve ever had to review, but anything less from Electro Cult Circus would’ve been disappointing. At the end of the day, it’s an honest commentary on the madness of the world around us.
- Disaster Divine
- Croatoan Tree
- Side Effects
- Anything You Want
- The Red Road
- Golden Ghost
- Disembodied Heart
- Uncanny Valley
- Love You No More
- One by One
Electro Cult CIrcus – Croatoan Tree