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Reviews

Wand
Plum Barnaby Smith , October 2nd, 2017 12:52

Wand emerge from their rich psychedelic swamp with a new harmonic and lyrical articulacy.

When Wand put out two albums in 2015, some suggested that the second of these, 1000 Days, was an unnecessary release of leftover songs from the first record, Golem. While 1000 Days was probably not their finest work, it did signal that change was in the air. And now with Plum, the Los Angeles band have decisively flown from the swampy psychedelic thud that defined them on their 2014 debut Ganglion Reef. This is a sound that is more restrained, not as reliant on gnarly amp tones and electronics, and allows the more mellifluous side of the band's sensibilities to develop without the crash and wail of solid walls of guitar.

A couple of factors may have contributed. One is the addition of new members: Robert Cody on guitar and particularly Sofia Arreguin on vocals and synths – her singing, though hardly to the fore, is important to this new mellowness. The other is frontman Cory Hanson's sinewy, mysterious, breathtakingly good 2016 solo album The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, which explored a certain fragility through the softness of Hanson's nylon-stringed guitar and accompanying string arrangements. Perhaps Hanson discovered a new harmonic and lyrical articulacy in making this record that he couldn't help bring back to his reconfigured band.

For example, the lazily percussive piano chords that open Plum's title track gather momentum with accumulating layers, including some crisp interweaving guitar lines, arriving at a song that could sit easily on pretty much any Wilco album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. As well, Hanson's professed love of The White Album is more evident here than ever before, particularly on the imperious three-minute sketch 'High Rise', with its echoes of 'Helter Skelter', while if there was one Beatles song that sums up Hanson's songwriting style during his still-nascent career, it might be 'Cry Baby Cry', which he channels a little on 'The Trap'.

To some, such touchstones as The Beatles and Wilco might represent the dull maturation of Wand: the entry into adult-rock territory, into dun-coloured sophistication. But that would be unfair. Wand's essence is not really in their arrangements or how wildly they might frame a song with production, but in Hanson's ear for penetrating chord changes and his perfect timing of them – and this has been a constant since their inception. Another expansive rock band, White Denim, have the same gift, and Wand veer extremely close to the Austin group's highly-charged-but-tuneful, riff-based style on 'Bee Karma'.

Though a less dark record and largely without the apocalyptic mood of early Wand, Plum is still a highly varied and eclectic listen. This is best illustrated by the record's two strongest songs, which come from vastly different corners of Hanson's motley arsenal of influences and sensibilities. 'White Cat' is one track that does hark back to earlier Wand records in its frantic prog-ish momentum and an electrifying instrumental passage courtesy of Arriguen's keys. By contrast, closer 'Driving' is more sedate but also more beautiful, almost ballady, and ensures that the album ends on a note far removed from the foreboding sense of doom found on Ganglion Reef and Golem. 'Driving''s outro is almost wistful, as Hanson and Arreguin's voices combine over sensuous chords to suggest Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention. Such is its poignancy, to appropriate a line from comedian John Mulaney, "If it were the last line to a Maya Angelou poem, you would close the book and stare out the window." Wand are a special band, and the new emotional range suits them.

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