Over the last few years, Wand has released three albums of deliciously off-kilter psychedelic rock, and the first track on their latest, Plum, seems to continue this trend: “Setting” opens with a steady squeal of electronic feedback. Yet, the album’s subsequent title track introduces a heavy piano and drum melody accompanied by nothing more than Cory Hanson’s tremulous vocals. This is definitely not the Wand fans expected.
Or is it? One does recognize Wand’s knack for left turns in “Plum,” as Hanson’s already lovely voice is buttressed by the appealing harmonies of new band member Sofia Arreguin (who also plays keyboards). “Blue Cloud” opens with a curious piano melody that shifts from speaker to speaker, while two instrumental tracks, “High Rise” and “Ginger,” run the gamut from guitar-heavy to delicate.
As surprisingly sparse as these songs may seem at first blush, there were hints of this on Wand’s previous albums. There was the simple majesty of “Passage of the Dream” from 1000 Days and the Beatle-esque “Melted Rope” from Golem. For those who long for the Wand whose music is more often than not awash in feedback and synthesizers, you’ll get that in the ragged guitar/drum attack of “White Cat,” which arrives about halfway through the album.
Wand’s lyrics are often as inexplicably odd as their music. Lines like “And you can scream ‘til your face turns to a plum / an old rotten knot of feathers that used to be wings / and other useless dreams” are certainly evocative, even if their meaning requires the listener to dig further. On the other hand, the straightforward appeal of “To survive in the end / you have got to pretend / it is worth surviving now” (“The Trap”) is obvious and inspiring.
Besides Hanson’s distinctive voice, it’s Wand’s skill with melodies that has always made their music so memorable. “Plum” works its way into the brain with only a couple of listens. “Charles de Gaulle” is almost stately, with Hanson and Arrequin’s vocals both following and defying the song’s various melodies to beautiful effect. The main thrust of the quirky “Bee Karma” is insistent and memorable, even as it feels like Wand is putting their own twist on Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men.”
As far as tunes which evoke the sounds of other bands, “The Trap” and “Driving” are intriguing: the former’s pedal steel and the latter’s lilting waltz beat both put them in the running for Best Continental Drifters Songs Not Actually Written By The Continental Drifters. Even more surprising is how much “Blue Cloud” comes across like Canadian indie rock heroes The Super Friendz, complete with vocals eerily akin to those of Matt Murphy.
When noticing all of these similarities to other bands, along with the decidedly different sound Wand is providing, it is difficult to determine whether I love Plum or if I just like it. This isn’t because it’s not good; it’s because despite the obvious through lines to their previous work, it just doesn’t feel like Wand.
Of course, Wand has experienced some recent line-up shifts, which would go a long way to explaining this change of direction. Guitarist Daniel Martens left before the recording of 2015’s 1000 Days, rendering the band a trio. Unlike previous releases when songs were “brought to the group substantially formed by Hanson,” the songs on Plum were written as a collective with two new members (the aforementioned Arreguin and Robbie Cody on guitar).
So, does Plum represent the future of Wand, or is it just a step sideways? The band’s appeal has always been a stealthy one; despite the music’s immediacy, it does take a while for it all to sink in. Perhaps Plum represents the incarnation of what Wand fans didn’t know they were looking for until they heard it.
Plum was released on September 22 from Drag City Records.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.