There doesn’t seem to be much at stake for the modern psych band, whose members are free to wander through a structureless haze of feedback and reverb, indulging every whim with the half-assed enthusiasm of the chronically stoned. There are lots of emperors hiding behind those curtains of distortion, but not nearly enough clothes to go around.
That’s why it’s a minor miracle to come across a band like Wand, one with a backbone and some actual meat to chew on. The Los Angeles group arrived not long ago with Ganglion Reef, a debut that ditched the crutch of reverb for a thick, oily mixture of rock chords and heavy-as-hell metal riffs. In a move likely approved by the band’s close and insanely prolific friend Ty Segall, Wand barely let half a year go by before releasing the follow-up, Golem.
Unlike Ganglion Reef, which sometimes got lost in its own astrological meanderings, Golem sets its sights squarely on the more visceral pleasures of psychedelia. In a sense, it picks up right where its predecessor left off, wedged between a whisper and a roar. Opener “The Unexplored Map” begins with a riff that borrows equally from shoegaze and stoner metal; it’s the heaviest Wand has sounded in its young history and a sign that the band’s musical universe continues to expand outward from its sugary psychedelic core. The guitar and synth-fueled assault continues on single “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days”, though Cory Hanson’s singsong vocals occasionally open up a moment of reverie that carries shades of early Pink Floyd.
One of the album’s strengths lies in the sense of narrative it conveys. As it approaches its midpoint, the tones and influences gradually shift until — voila — we find ourselves lifted out of the mosh pit and placed gently in the garden outside. It’s almost as if the initial burst of adrenaline has left Wand sleepy, but thankfully, “Melted Rope” is the kind of REM sleep where the dreams are vivid and exciting. “Cave In” finds a happy middle ground between Wand’s two extremes, alternating between proto-metal riffs and Hanson’s lullaby vocal lines. “Flesh Tour” and “Planet Golem” are heavy enough to sound dark, but both tunes evince all the glee of a band jamming in the garage, not to mention a guitar tone so thick you could punch it.
As with most psychedelic rock, Golem has a penchant for wandering and is probably best enjoyed stoned. But Wand is quickly growing into a band that can take a musical trip and still land squarely on its feet. In this way, they’re not unlike the golem of Jewish folklore: a physically imposing being with a touch of magic at its core.
Essential Tracks: “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days”, “Melted Rope”, and “Flesh Tour”