It’s hard to believe that the band who came flailing headlong out of the gate with Golem just two short years ago is the same band who’ve penned Plum, one of the most thoughtfully dynamic albums to come out in 2017. The creative arch of the Los Angeles band is without doubt rooted in the grime-y sonic sludge of the Ty Segall/Meatbodies/Mikal Cronin set. It would have been fine to have regarded them as yet another good band living under the punk-y parasol of the neo-psych-garage revolution. Only, Plum has quite simply separated them completely from the fray.
Golem and its quick followup 1000 Days, behemoths though they are, were virtually indistinguishable from their torch-bearing garage-rock brethren; there were clues that only seem sensible in hindsight, as heard on bizarre musical tangents like 1000 Days’ “Dovetail” or Golem’s “Flesh Tour.” If the inevitable incestuousness of a scene yields great foundations, then the couple of years beyond that initial thrust can really pinpoint the fulcrum of a band within it hitting their true stride. On Plum, Wand has exceeded all expectations.
A purported democratization of the band’s songwriting process could be the main culprit for the band’s evolution, as Plum runs like a playlist of rock ‘n’ roll offshoots, with experimentations in Led Zep riffage and Spoon-like piano-rock only the tip of the iceberg.
After a droney feedback intro on “Setting” blurs your senses, plodding keys open a quirky rocker in the album’s title-track, everything emerging slowed down as if trapped in a hardening amber. Vocalist/guitarist Cory Hanson’s vocals are finally given room to dance and flutter, what with their place in the mix not buried behind an ocean of grunge-y, washed-out layers. Hanson’s voice is a revelation here, as he croons gingerly, “You deflate like a balloon on the lake, like a swollen tiger combing the swamp for debris.” The clarity of Hanson’s vox is clear even after guitars come coiling in like poisonous serpents and the drone of keys return to close the curtains on the song.
“Bee Karma” then explodes fully into the aforementioned Jimmy Page swagger, with Hanson and second guitarist Robert Cody trading monster riffs and leads in smart distinction. There’s a tenderness evident here, too, that was largely absent in the band’s peaked-out predecessors; that element can in part be credited to the lushness of harmonies from Sofia Arreguin. Stripped of the brashness, Wand’s songwriting acumen is on par with any of the heavier hitters in the rock world, underground or otherwise, and that is perhaps this record’s most satisfying attribute. The tether between being surprised and being thrilled is taut, and there’s plenty to be exhilarated about on Plum.
Hanson’s deft, image-rich lyricism is another surprise. Pair that with Wand’s seemingly newfound prog-rock tendencies and interest in advanced time signatures, and songs like “White Cat” take on bold, art-rock importance. Hanson’s drug-vision vignettes sputter and spit, as he sings “If you’re leaving at the sunrise with the map on your head/there’s no streets at night to draw away a spirit/She tore me apart with a pair of old horse teeth.” Shades of Deerhoof’s alchemical explorations gurgle on this tune; its otherness adding yet another strange layer to the artistically ambitious blueprint.
Wand has most decidedly produced a “band” record, in the most basic of terms. Plum is a multi-hued exposition, fertile in musical nuance and risk-taking, beautiful and scary, ugly and inspiring. These sentiments come to a head on the meandering, satisfying “Blue Cloud”—the image of which adorns the album’s cover. The eight-minute epic is a slow-blooming, balladesque killer that summarizes the shapeshifting moods of Wand’s dazzling oeuvre.
Wand’s many talents are given full plumage on Plum. It will be interesting to see in what directions the band surveys in future albums. For now, this is about as interesting a new rock record you could hope to listen to.