Ganglion Reef

Wand are a perfect alchemy of two significant recent styles within, for grave want of a better term, the broad cathedral that is modern psychedelia. The Los Angeles four-piece have a true sense of something shuddersome and darkly penetrating oozing through their absorbing debut, at its best recalling the menace through repetitive minimalism of Wooden Shjips. The fiery first moments of opener ‘Send Receive (Mind)’ set a marker for the fact Wand have a proclivity for distorted riffs and noise. And despite the many tangents and experiments that follow in the course of the next 35 minutes, one gets the impression that this is where their true loyalty lies. It is certainly their departure point on an album that actually turns out to be colourful, playful and, though some might find certain elements naive, extremely attractive in its youthful explosion of expression.

The second of those modes of psych that Ganglion Reef embraces is that flowery, more abstract, perhaps absurd, school. There are plenty of passages that explore a Piper At The Gates Of Dawn mystique with organs and heavy echo. This gives Wand something in common with another of this year’s more charming and innocent albums of 60s revivalism, Temples’ Sun Structures and, therefore, Tame Impala. But, like White Fence on the recent For The Recently Found Innocent, Wand have more grunt that both of those. One feels a strong gust of wind might cause those two to topple over; Wand’s resilient sound, on rigid foundations, is firmly rooted in the earth, despite sharing some of the same effects and decorations as those more flimsy bands. One can’t imagine Ty Segall, who signed Wand to his GOD? label (an imprint of Drag City), being drawn to them otherwise.

‘Flying Golem’, the song designed to act as representative of the album with its prior release online, is a decent example of the band having a foot in both camps. As with the entire record, Cory Hanson’s voice is a boyish trill lodged firmly underneath what sounds like a carefully crafted soundscape that mixes jangliness with heaviness. It’s a decent enough song, and admittedly the album’s most accessible, but the trick is achieved with more depth on the fabulous ‘Clearer’, a track in serious thrall to early Hawkwind.

That song is defined partly by the prevalence of its high-octane instrumental passages, and indeed some of Ganglion Reef‘s best moments are when Hanson’s vocals are absent. ‘Fire On The Mountain’ is the most interesting track in terms of structure, and one that also allows Wand to ultimately transcend the label of "garage", which often appears to be heavily applied to them. The song moves through a slow, emotive passage that could have once come from the Flaming Lips, through a few bars of Stooges-like abandon, and then, completely disarmingly, ending in a sweetly hypnotic instrumental chord sequence with acoustic guitar and synth that marks a rare gentleness, a gratuitously simple but indulgent section not far removed from Pulp’s later albums. The mellowness returns later for an entire song with the slow and moody ballad ‘Growing Up Boys’, again allowing a curious beauty to infuse things thanks to a winsome synth line.

The 90s emerge strongly elsewhere with ‘Strange Inertia (Ctrl Alt Death)’, a hugely enjoyable slice of spritely pop with a hip laziness directly descended from Pavement’s Brighten The Corners. Songs such as these are, though, the exception on Ganglion Reef, an album that certainly has its patterns. Wand are wont to quickly establish something gnarly, abrasive and immovable in their songs, and then match it with something soft, melodic or even sentimental. Hanson is key in this – even when the guitars pound at their loudest, his delicate, reverb-shrouded singing offers calmness and sweetness. Wand’s resultant mixture of the frenetic and the smooth is intoxicating.

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