Wand - Ganglion Reef

by Justin Pearson Rating:8 Release Date:2014-08-25

The cover art alone and a few of the song titles on the debut album by Los Angeles-based Wand might have you wondering if you're about to enter alien territory. Well, in a way you are... but in a good way. Harking back to when rock was straightforward yet still daring enough to veer off path once in a while, this collection of songs does seem out of place next to the mediocre, take-no-chances stuff you might have become used to in pop/rock radio-land these days.

The opener 'Send/Receive (Mind)' could be a first cousin to 'Death', a track from 2012's fuzzy, loud masterpiece Slaughterhouse by Ty Segall Band. Starting with a minute-long assault of distortion, it demands your attention from the get-go before it kicks into gear as any proper head-bobbing jam should.

The retro-stylisic leanings of, say, Tame Impala are evident on the next track 'Clearer'. Blips, transmissions, and more weirdness lead the track over a rollicking drum-beat, which then combines with Cory Hanson's reverbed vocals and guitar in a stop/start kind of play where you can't help but dance in your seat. He sings about his mind becoming "clearer" towards the end, and you can feel this same assurance yourself as the song takes you out to a space that's pure and uncluttered.

'Broken Candle' gallops right out of the gate, advising you to "run for your life". I wouldn't run, though, especially with the nice interplay of the shining guitar and synth-line placed before and between the cautionary lyrics: "When the water and the seas rise... there'll be no place to hide." 

As the mid-piece of the album, 'Fire on the Mountain (I-II-III)' seems to be built as a sort of suite, hence the parenthetical sequence of numbers I'm guessing. It begins as any good chill, laid-back song should, along with touches of psychedelia. The tempo picks up with a heavier guitar feel, but just as soon as it does it slows back down into a nice acoustic wash, and then brings in a power ballad-y moment before it dies out in pure warmth.

The lovely acoustic wobble at the beginning of 'Flying Golem' makes you feel as if you indeed are about to take off in flight, not as an amorphous stone and clay being of Jewish folklore, as the title suggests, but rather a creature sure of itself as it soars with wings much lighter and softer, able to stay in the air for quite awhile.

Of course, not all is perfection here. Some ideas seem to be incompletely fleshed out, and the ones that are solid seem a little too short on length. 'Strange Intertia (Ctrl Alt Death)' seems like it lacks a certain drive which the other songs possess, but yet is still trying to fit in with the rest of the picture. 'Growing Up Boys' is a nice low-tempo moment near the end of the album, but feels slightly out of place in a pool of higher energy currents.

Debuts seem to either strike unexpectedly like lightning or take a leap and end up doing a belly-flop. Sometimes they land somewhere in between, but rarely. I wouldn't place Wand's first effort smack-dab in the middle of this scale because that would just be unfair and it would suggest Ganglion Reef is just average, and it's clearly not.

Certainly then, this is a debut that makes it clear Wand is arriving with all feet on the ground. They may not be in shape to run a marathon just yet, but it will be interesting to see where their feet take them next.

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