For the past decade or so, the west coast of the USA has been throwing up band after band, all well versed in the art of psychedelic garage rock. Last year alone there were incredible records by San Francisco’s Ty Segall, White Fence, and Thee Oh Sees. Yet, amidst the frenzy and smoldering haze of the Golden City, my pick of the bunch was from Los Angeles: Wand. Their debut album Ganglion Reef hypnotised me in a way that the others didn’t. In the words of Pitchfork’s Jason Heller: infinity has cracked open.
A year later and Wand has come up with its second album. Recorded in the “weird city” of Sacramento — according to Wand — second album, Golem, is nothing if not aptly titled. In general, it’s a much heavier album than Ganglion Reef. The first minute of opening cut The Unexplored Map starts out with a field recording of some Thing flying by, softly and faintly (perhaps the flying golem from Wand’s first record). This peace lasts all of thirty seconds after which the creature goes on a rampage. Things are getting destroyed at a steroidal rate and if there’s any respite at all, it’s almost as if the hard hats are just on a cigarette break and even then the foreman is rushing you back to work. The guitar lick exchanges are no stroll in the park — there’s no time for smelling the flowers or exchanging pecks with your partner. Rather, the pyramids are getting built and if you don’t hurry your slacking ass, it will attract a whipping.
Closer The Drift best captures Wand’s penchant for the fantastical. Psychedelic bands often explore space, both inner and outer. Wand’s preoccupations seem more medieval, in the sense that humans used to be worried about “the monsters [that] took over the place” and worlds on fire more than UFOs. Of course, a golem itself is something of Jewish folklore, dating way back to the 13th century — a protective monster summoned from clay and mud and stone. Thus, while there’s the by now very familiar tropes of synthy swirls and phasered guitars doing loop-the-loops around planetarial flotsam and jetsam, Wand’s matter is rooted perhaps more contemporarily in World of Warcraft and Minecraft.
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Melted Rope is driven by acoustic strumming and lead singer Cory Hanson’s voice, for once, taking a bit more of a lead. Like a shadow puppet which looks out of place when revealed from behind the screen, Hanson’s voice is otherwise more content to swim between the sea bed and surface. In Floating Head, he almost harmonises with the melody guitar, thus obliterating differences between vocals and instruments, all blending into one. Which brings us to one problem: while everything is cranked up to eleven, it’s harder to make out what Hanson is singing about. Maybe that’s intended — indeed, you’re never really sure if the golem is friend or foe, paralleling the foreboding and paranoiac sound of the album. Still, as face melters go, Golem have approached a new frontier: psychedelic metal. If you want to leave their obvious rocker siblings Tame Impala, Temples, and Pond for a heavier kick, Wand’s your friend.
Golem is out on March 17 via In The Red. Wand will be playing Bar Le Ritz P.D.B. on April 2.