Review Summary: Dream with me...
Wand have always been a band that understands texture. Ganglion Reef and Golem were full of heavy guitar and synth taking up the low end balanced by Cory Hanson's high-pitched voice and searing guitar leads filling the upper registers. Fuzzy guitars and experimental effects always abounded alongside synths with an extra dose of experimental noisiness. Even Hanson's solo album exuded plenty of beautiful texture with his quiet vocals accompanied by softly strummed acoustic guitar and lush string arrangements. Plum is a major turning point in this aspect, as the "garage psych rock" scene is generally dominated by fairly simple song structures covered with layers of noise and filters. Plum is where Wand peels back all the noise and starts experimenting with the songs themselves, and it's proved to be their most interesting and rewarding album yet.
The songs on the album flow very well, and the shifting structures aren't always immediately evident because they remain catchy and easy to listen to while the band is experimenting. The twisting, dueling guitar work all across this album brings to mind some of the more beautiful passages from Radiohead
's In Rainbows. Hanson's voice cuts right through the noise to deliver clear, catchy melodies. There's asymmetrical shifting rhythms all across "White Cat", quietly sliding guitar work that reminds of late Talk Talk
on instrumental track "Ginger", soaring guitar solos across "High Rise", "Blue Cloud", and "Driving". Wand has really grown up here, and the subtlety shows. Not every song has to be audacious or weird to keep things interesting. "Charles De Gaulle" begins as a beautiful track that feels like it might float away on ascending guitar triplets before it comes back to earth and closes with a noisy duet including keyboardist Sofia Arreguin.
The pinnacle of the album is the final two tracks that clock in around 7 minutes each. Across sparkling guitars and keys on "Blue Cloud", Hanson's sometimes-dreary lyrics reach an uplifting turning point and find hope in the end "Beauty will surround you, and you'll be free at last." The balance between highs and lows find their way from the music into the lyrics, and it's just the push the album needs before heading into it's noisiest instrumental section yet. "Driving" crawls along spiraling guitar lines between pummeling choruses. The gain is dialed back on this album compared to past releases, and it really lets the guitars and keys sing. The final track then kicks it into gear and delivers a powerful solo that climbs its way into the highest notes on the fretboard before quietly humming the album to a close. The contrasts like these are what make this album great.
Something keeps me coming back to this album. Whether it's the brilliant melodies between the two vocalists, the twisting interplay of the guitars and keyboards, the ever-shifting rhythms, or the crafty chord changes, there is always something interesting going on here. Despite generally slower tempos and fewer effects than ever, the songs are still plenty of fun. These tracks wouldn't have been possible with the driving pace and prevalent noise of the older albums. Wand has stepped away from their original sound, and it feels like for the first time they're changing from a fun band full of ideas into to one that understand the nuance and subtlety of making important, interesting music.