Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Martens’

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When the Los Angeles group Wand formed in 2013, they played a wickedly spooky brand of psychedelic garage rock tinged with heavy metal. Over the course of three albums recorded in a couple years, the band’s leader Cory Hanson wielded full control over their claustrophobic sound. The band’s lineup has changed along the way and Hanson loosened his grip on their sonic boundaries, allowing the new band members more say in their newly classic rock- and modern pop-influenced approach. 2017’s Plum was the first Wand album to reflect this change.

Cory Hanson started the band with drummer Evan Burrows, guitarist Daniel Martens, and bassist Lee Landey and immediately dove headfirst into a sludgy, psychedelic garage rock. They quickly put together an abundance of material that straddled the line between melodic and noise-heavy, issuing split singles with artists like Mikal Cronin and Meatbodies before being signed by Ty Segall to his Drag City Records spinoff label “God?” for the release of their 2014 debut LP “Ganglion Reef”. Wand embarked on a tour supporting Segall for the release of the album.

Ganglion Reef

After a handful of singles, Los Angeles power psych band Wand arrived with Ganglion Reef, their debut full-length and a nonstop parade of acid-dipped, pop-minded forays into both heaviness and wavy folk detours. Along with Ty Segall Wand approach songwriting with a fearless love of exploring guitar tones and unexpected dynamics, but where Segall builds up walls of guitars with layer after layer of fuzz to achieve his mind-bending sounds, Wand relies more on time-honored techniques of trippy ’60s production. Standout track “Broken Candle” sees vocalist Cory Hanson singing a thin, wispy melody over battling organs and highly effected acoustic guitars, the stomping acid folk rhythms building and building until the entire mix is coated in an over the top flanger effect for a few seconds before fading out. It’s by-the-books psychedelia taken right from the Are You Experienced? playbook.

Elsewhere, Wand tends toward sludgy proto-metal guitars and clunky rhythms on tracks like “Fire on the Mountain” and the stony funk-metal groove of “6661.” “Growing Up Boys” goes the opposite direction, offering a laid-back country-rock dirge in the style of solo John Lennon, but with all the spaced-out experimentation of Pink Floyd. The songs always waver between saturated extremes of heaviness and gentleness, with whispering vocal harmonies and dazzled acoustic guitars always seconds away from distorted organs and the band’s bevy of freakish effects. Ultimately, Wand’s gift for songwriting guides the endless psychedelic tug of war that is Ganglion Reef, offering listeners something turbulent and strange but deeply rooted in strong tunes.

Wand - Golem

The band’s next record was recorded over a 12-day span by Chris Woodhouse at The Dock in Sacramento, California, and saw the band expanding its sound with synthesizers and showing a deeper heavy metal influence. “Golem” was released in early 2015 by In the Red Records.

Wand’s debut album Ganglion Reef was an impressive neo-psych statement that weaved together various elements like folky guitar sounds, tricky arrangements, duel guitar wanderings, and, above all, hooky pop melodies into an entrancing whole. Their second record, 2015’s “Golem”, cuts out anything folky, paves over some of the fragile psych weirdness, and instead piles on the heavy, heavy noise, stomping into protoplasmic Black Sabbath territory at times. Tracks like the pummeling “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days” and the heavily phased “Cave In” sound like they were lifted directly from the set of a band that might have opened for Sabbath in 1970. “Planet Golem,” too, delves deeply into some dirge metal, with weird synths and riffs brutal enough to knock out a stegosaurus. There are still a few moments when Cory Hanson and Daniel Martens click off their fuzz pedals and the band heads back to the dreamier territory of its debut (“Reaper Invert” and the almost tender “Melted Rope”), and the album-ending “The Drift” switches gears entirely for a bit of near ambient, totally oceanic metal balladry, but really this album is about nightmarish power, not Technicolor dreams. In the hands of a less talented band, it could have ended up as a real mess .

Luckily, even though they have changed up their approach, the guys in Wand didn’t lose their ability to craft songs with huge hooks. Now they are thunderous and ugly hooks instead of weird psychedelic ones, but it works just as well. Their new sound might scare off some of the psych lovers who dug their debut, but for anyone looking for some weird heavy rock noise, Golem fits the bill.

Wand - 1000 Days

Not a band to waste any time, Wand returned before the end of the year with their third album, 1000 Days. Released by Drag City proper this time, the album saw Wand incorporating more electronics into their sound, while integrating their metal and psych elements even further. The guys in Wand are a prolific bunch. 1000 Days is their third album in a year, This time out, the L.A. band blends the tricky psych and heavy metal into something more organic, adding keyboards and electronics in the process. It’s their best-sounding record yet, casting aside any vestiges of lo-fi in favor of a huge sound that envelops the listener in a hazy cloud of fuzzed sounds and warped dynamics. They melt acoustic and electric guitars into a swirling mix that will get heads spinning, with booming bass and echoing drums holding down the bottom. Most of 1000 Days sounds like a perfect blend of the first two albums that capture both the thudding power of heavy metal and the baroque weirdness of psych pop.

Tracks like “Grave Robber” and “Dungeon Dropper” lean a bit toward the heavy side, while the dreamier songs like “Passage of the Dream” and “Broken Sun” creep over to the psych side. “Morning Rainbow” even ends the album with some seriously acid-y folk. It’s an impressive job of fulfilling the promise of the first two albums, amping up both the production and the songcraft to a new level. Despite how focused and tight most of the album is, though, Wand still indulge their experimental nature a couple times. The electro-tribal instrumental “Dovetail” is a wobbling trip into inner space that feels like it could last for 20 minutes and not get boring, “Stolen Footsteps” is bedroom synth pop with a majestic melody, soaring synths, and a very tinny drum machine.

This willingness to take chances and explore oddball avenues is one of the things that makes Wand so good. They may be one of many, many neo-psych bands out there in 2015 whipping up retro-flavored noise, but this record proves that they are one of the best and most imaginative.

The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo

They also toured frequently, playing many shows with Segall, who was impressed enough to subsequently play a number of shows with Hanson as an acoustic duo. He also added Hanson and Burrows to his backing band the Muggers for his 2016 touring dates. Thanks to this, Wand was uncharacteristically quiet on the recording front during 2016, with Cory Hanson spending time working on a solo album.

The acid folk-inspired, lushly orchestrated The Unborn Capitalist from Limbo was released by Drag City in late 2016.

Wand - Plum

Around that time, Wand expanded their lineup by adding guitarist Robbie Cody and keyboardist/vocalist Sofia Arreguin. This also led to a change in the way the band wrote songs. Where previously Hanson brought finished songs to the rest of the group, now they spent time in their rehearsal space working out songs together.

This new style of writing and the new members led to some sonic differences on their 2017 record “Plum”, on which the creepy, claustrophobic psychedelia and bludgeoning metal of the past were downplayed in favour of classic rock influences and more expansive-sounding indie rock. The same lineup of the band soon went back to the recording studio and cranked out another EP in the democratic vein of Plum.

Plum is Wand’s fourth LP since the band formed in late 2013 but their first new album in two years. After a whirlwind initial phase of writing, recording, and touring at a frenetic clip, their newest document marks a period of relative patience; a refocusing and a push toward a new democratization of both process and musical surface.

From the out- set, the new ensemble moved naturally toward a changed working method, as they learned how to listen to each other and trust in this new format. The songwriting process was consciously relocated to the practice space, where for several months, the band spent hours a day freely improvising, while recording as much of the activity as they could manage. Previously, Wand songs had generally been brought to the group setting substan- tially formed by singer and guitarist Cory Hanson; now seedling songs were harvested from a growing cloudbank of archived material, then fleshed out and negotiated collectively as the band shifted rhythmically between the permissive space of jamming and the obsessive space of critique.

The band’s new approach charts them away from intense guitar workouts that verged on heavy metal and stickily claustrophobic psych pop toward a more traditional indie rock sound that’s not a million miles away from what bands like Wilco are doing. Simple melodies, twisting twin-guitar lines, obtuse keyboards, and a widescreen expansiveness are the order of the day, and only occasionally do Wand Mk II manage to wrestle their new sound into submission and make something interesting of it. For example, “Charles de Gaulle” is brainy and full of hooks, with sweet vocals from new keyboardist Sofia Arreguin that offset Hanson’s harsher tone, and the skittering “White Cat” is nervous, punchy, and not too far from something John Dwyer might cook up for his Damaged Bug project. Mostly, though, there’s either something important missing (energy, wildness, drama) or something unnecessary added (fancy keyboards, a sense of restraint), and it’s impossible to listen to Plum without wondering why Hanson changed things so drastically when they were working so well.

Three very long songs that end the album — the slow-rolling ballad “The Trap” the elongated and very indulgent tie-dyed jam “Blue Cloud” and “Driving” a trad rock ballad tailor-made for montage scenes on a major network drama.

Wand - Perfume

After an album that saw Wand shifting from Cory Hanson’s project where he called all the shots to a fully fledged band, consequently losing some of the claustrophobic brilliance of earlier work, the 2018 EP Perfume is another democratic effort that suffers the same fate. While the seven songs included aren’t bad, they just lack the attention to detail and spooky outsider psych feel of Wand when it was only Hanson pulling the strings. Songs like the opening title track, which rages and roils like Thee Oh Sees on a bender, has plenty of energy, but lacks that certain something that could set it apart from the crowd. The proggy rave-up “Town Meeting” has lots of the weirdness of past songs, but is missing a hook. The EP-ending “I Will Keep You Up” has a rambling, sandblasted feel reminiscent of Mazzy Star at their loosest, but it just wanders aimlessly and never pays off sonically or emotionally. That’s kind of the way it goes through the whole record. The over-stuffed modern rockers “The Gift,” that encroaches on stadium indie or on “Pure Romance,” a song so utterly pleasant it sounds nothing at all like the Wand of the past. It’s clear that Hanson was looking for a change in the way Wand operated; it’s also clear that he gave away far too much control to his band, If it were another band’s name on the cover.

The seven-song Perfume was issued by Drag City Records in May of 2018. The shift away from their early garage rock fervor to more atmospheric songwriting fully solidified on 2019’s “Laughing Matter”. The lengthy album was sculpted from improvised jams and sketches, Wand explored more introspective indie rock territory.

Wand - Laughing Matter

Beginning in 2013 as a gnarly psych band with garage tendencies, Los Angeles’ Wand quickly made several albums of weird and suffocating music. A shift began in Wand’s sound around the release of 2017’s Plum, the first album from the group to reflect a new lineup and a new democratic approach to songwriting. Plum and the subsequent 2018 EP Perfume set the tone for the drastic shift the band has been undergoing, and Laughing Matter cements these changes. While earlier Wand albums weren’t absent of mellower moments, they came in the form of acid folk-modeled acoustic psychedelia and were nestled between blasts of disorienting metallic garage.

The Wand on Laughing Matter tends toward moodier, more textural sounds than they did just two years earlier on Plum. The 15 pieces that make up the album were sculpted from lengthy improvisations and distilled into moody, often paranoid songs. Opening with the nervous, scratchy rhythm of “Scarecrow,” as the album stretches on, often gelling into bright harmonies with bandmate Sofia Arreguin.

This haunted, darkened mood continues for much of the album, with songs like “Evening Star” and “Airplane” exploring the same beautifully tormented sound that Radiohead perfected in their first steps away from conventional rock. There are still echoes of Wand’s psych-rock past scattered throughout Laughing Matter. “Walkie Talkie” rides a clunky bounce that sounds part Faust, part Blue Cheer, but overrides the rock energy with an upbeat melody. “Thin Air” pulls out some of the heavy fuzz that early Wand songs were built on, but pulls back for a far more dynamic reading. The album explores different ideas and inspirations at length, making it hard to digest in one sitting. Those who stick around to the end will be surprised to hear the ambient atmospheres of the album’s second half give way to the Velvet Underground homage “Jennifer’s Gone” which closes the album.

“Laughing Matter” continues Wand’s headstrong push forward. It’s the final nail in the coffin for their garage roots, but they sound rejuvenated and excited in their unbridled exploration of new sounds.

Track from the Wand album “Laughing Matter” available from Drag City Records on April 19th, 2019.