Set aside all expectations when listening to Wand‘s fourth studio album, Plum. It isn’t the raucous wrecking ball that was Golem or the hurtling garage-rock meteor of Ganglion Reef. The record isn’t even the blistering bleakness heard on 1000 Days. Instead, the Los Angeles-based quintet have reinvented themselves with an expansive record, though the band’s intelligent and observant songwriting remains. Musically, Plum possesses the sweetest songs in Wand’s discography, but lyrically a malice still exists.
Following the buzzing feedback of “Setting” (it’s worth skipping), the title track, “Plum”, kicks off the album with a piano-driven, groovy burner. Front man Cory Hanson’s vocals take a surprisingly soft, crooning approach, but his songwriting is biting as he focuses on an adversary not just to himself but the people. His use of Biblical allegories is clever and gives a sense that the apocalypse has arrived.
“We get thin like old kings,
Who have lived far too long
‘Til our empires fall over on horses and feet,
Frozen until the spring.”
“Bee Karma” electrifies the air with a guitar-driven, methodical banger that is among the most outstanding rock songs of the year. The song echoes Radiohead in their early days, except Robbie Cody and Hanson’s dueling guitars play the part of Johnny Greenwood. The final 30 seconds are memorably mind-blowing. Hanson’s vocals, too, take on an air of Thom Yorke, and his songwriting is as imaginative and poetic as the living icon. The song is a brilliant encapsulation of how reality and fiction have increasingly become blurred in today’s technology-driven society.
The blurry, grungy, instrumental interlude, “High Rise”, offers a hint of the old Wand and their free-wheeling days. However, the darkness arrives and the malice is unleashed on the very next song. If Neo followed the White Rabbit, Wand have us following “White Cat”. Prog-rock and industrial influences converge with their psychedelic past to form a rapturous maelstrom of noise. The entire song feels like a hallucination, particularly the hazy images Hanson depicts in his lyrics and Sofia Arreguin’s out-of-this-world synth work. This isn’t The Matrix that we’ve entered but an entirely different and trippy dimension.
The biggest surprises on Plum are the folk- and Americana-oriented tunes. The gentle breeze of “Charles De Gaulle” offers a history lesson, reminding us how all “great men” and empires eventually fall. On “The Trap”, Wand deliver a dreamy, indie-folk-rock number that recalls My Morning Jacket’s most serene songs (e.g., “Bermuda Highway”). It is surprisingly graceful with Hanson offering advice on how to survive today’s perilous world.
To survive in the end,
You’ve go to pretend
That’s it’s worth surviving now.”
The pit of Plum lies in “Blue Cloud”, which resonates with the otherworldly, alt-country/rock exploits of Wilco. The opening dissonant chords, Evan Burrows’ throbbing percussion, and Lee Landey’s hallow bass set the stage for the nearly eight-minute epic. It slowly builds in intensity as Hanson tells the tale of a young person finding their freedom. Wand then unleash a magnificent four-minute jam highlighted by Cody’s near-perfect impersonation of Nels Cline.
Wand end the album with where they begin – with a classic rocker in “Driving”. This seven-minute breathtaking and dazzling number is like a dream. The urgency in Hanson’s vocals are exhilarating, and Arreguin’s lush and soothing voice provide the perfect complement and anchor. The band’s instrumentation, meanwhile, is perfection, highlighted by the final guitar solo. Not since Prince has anyone made a guitar mourn in this fashion.
While some longtime fans will long for the unrelenting rockers of their past, Plum presents an enlightening metamorphosis for Wand. As good as Golem and Ganglion Reef were, Plum is Wand’s greatest achievement. It is a multi-dimensional and complex album that on many occasions reaches sheer brilliance musically and lyrically. Plum is not simply a juicy and enticing offering; it is a magical ride.
Wand are Cory Hanson (vocals/guitar), Sofia Arreguin (piano/synth/vocals), Evan Burrows (drums), Robbie Cody (guitar), and Lee Landey (bass). They are in the midst of a cross-continental tour. Dates and information are available here.
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