Wand didn’t need to release another album in 2015. Back in March, the LA band dropped Golem, an apocalyptic pop opus that was received warmly by both the underground garage-psych scene and heavy-headed psych metal dudes. That record’s low end rivals the quaking bass of doom bands like Yob, but Cory Hanson’s vocals and songcraft fall more in line with the John Lennon school, not unlike fellow Cali neo-psych stalwarts Ty Segall and Tim Presley.
But it is Wand’s darker side — an embrace of the Sabbathian heavy — that separates them from the trend of the “Thee Oh Sees Sound.” Golem is an often terrifying record about post-modern psychosis and eventual death. Pop arrangements are nestled beneath sinister acid jams that lift off into the stratospheric realms once occupied by Hawkwind and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. The journey is affecting, though not always pleasant — a bad trip in musical form.
Wand’s mysterious nature only adds to that surreal effect. The band doesn’t have a Facebook page or any social media presence (a conscious decision in this day and age), but instead hosts a dial-up friendly website that looks like shitty HTML from 1995. They operate with minimal press or hype. Weirdos to the max, Wand toe the line between reaching fans and maintaining their precious enigma.
So, Wand’s second album of the year, 1000 Days, stands as experiment in this regard, as it drops with little fanfare. Whereas Golem was put out by the heavier-leaning In the Red label, longtime keepers-of-cryptic-rock Drag City (too cryptic for Spotify, even) snuck out 1000 Days with this simple tagline: “New band magic in the form of SONGS.” It’s an apt description, at least, because this is a far more song-oriented record than the doomy, gloomy Golem. That record sounded like an ensemble, a band playing together and feeding off of one another in the name of musical chaos. By comparison, 1000 Days sounds like a Cory Hanson solo album and a stagnant development for Wand, who, instead of progressing toward a heavy psych sound patently their own, settle for a gentler, safer pop record.
Opener “Grave Robber” dictates the album’s contents: The bass no longer quakes, but bounces and bops in the mid-range, Hanson’s occasionally grating faux-British delivery is sharply mixed, and the drums sound suspiciously thin and wispy. The lyrics are trippy non sequiturs verging on hackneyed symbolism, though words were never Wand’s forte. The group reaches transcendence when the synth and guitar lines swirl, spiral, and lose themselves in one another. That just doesn’t happen nearly enough on 1000 Days.
The songs here are too short, too structured, and Hanson dominates with his wily tenor. “Broken Sun” touts some welcome guitar sludge, and the frontman wails the whole time. Like of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, he’s not a technically gifted vocalist — he just barely reaches those higher notes, tossing Lennon-esque inflection on his phrases. But unlike Barnes, Hanson doesn’t yet have the personality as a performer or lyricist to pull off those grand exercises.
His effort on “Broken Sun” is strained and flawed, too ambitious for his means, and the awkward vocal melodies on “Sleepy Dog” and synthpop ditty “Stolen Footsteps” work against the instrumentation. Fillers like the four-minute percussive instrumental “Dovetail” and pointless freakout “Little Dream” give the impression that 1000 Days was hodgepodged together or rushed out to meet a label deadline, as Golem and 2014’s Ganglion Reef flowed as constructed wholes with no filler.
The best parts of those records were the electric guitars. Hanson makes magic through pedal trickery and tasteful fretwork, quite the opposite effect of his polarizing vocals. “Passage of the Dream” highlights 1000 Days with its glistening Big Star jangles and riffing solo, and pastoral closer “Morning Rainbow” ascends to bliss as its outro solo melds to a sensual refrain of “come back to me.” But these moments of guitar brilliance are so much more fleeting here than on Golem. That record hinted at future prog-psych brilliance, textual soundscapes to threaten the very notion of modern guitar pop. In the face of those expectations, 1000 Days is complacent and unnecessary. Wand had no reason to tip their hand. Their air of mystery has been punctured.
Essential Track: “Passage of the Dream”