Certainly an album of lo-fi indie rock covers of the Wu-Tang Clan could be seen as gimmicky. But local act Ultra Mega manages to walk the tightrope of sincerity on Black Wu Jackets, their seven-song debut EP. Six of those seven songs are cold-crush-classics from the Wu and, for good measure, the band also throws in a cover of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy/Big Poppa.”
Ultra Mega first popped up on my radar in the summer of 2008 with their video for “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” and while that song appears here, the recording has been redone and benefits greatly from the crisper sound captured by Sean Geisel at Mid Ocean Sound.
“Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” aka “C.R.E.A.M.” is an undeniable album highlight with its relentlessly propulsive guitar supporting JD Ormond’s breathy delivery. The exuberance of the chorus brings to mind what Pavement could sound like if they were covering hip-hop tunes and begs the question, “Why didn’t they?”
“Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” hints at the answer, as its epic length (over six minutes) can’t quite sustain the energy needed, flagging somewhat in the middle. But then there’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” following on the heels of “Chessboxin’” to revive the listener. Then Ultra Mega flip the script and chill things out by making “Big Poppa” into a heartfelt ballad.
While they risk being pigeon-holed with Black Wu Jackets, I’ve heard demos of the band’s follow-up and they hint at Ultra Mega’s ability to go beyond the gimmick and write material that will surpass this solid debut.