Full of potential, but waning energy
On the new EP from psychedelic garage rockers Wand, a shift in style is just like a change in Perfume. The effect of this shift is something much prettier, maybe more attractive to a larger crowd, but perhaps slightly inauthentic, even to the point of watering down the original spirit. On this new EP, sonically a continuation of the modern-pop derived sound of the band’s 2017 record Plum, the five-piece transitions across seven tracks from the heavy, claustrophobic garage rock that encompasses their early sound all the way to a pleasant kind of pop-rock. This is not meant to discredit the work of band leader Cory Hanson, who here and on Plum began ceding sole control on the group’s sound, or the rest of the group, who still manage to crank out some solid songs on Perfume. The organization of tracks gives off the effect of compromised pop creeping into the EP and slowly taking it whole.
Wand is fairly comparable to Australian progedelic band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, especially in their opening track “Perfume,” the most frenetic track on the EP. Blending heavy metal and garage rock influences, both groups burst listener’s eardrums with torrents of heavy psych-rock. Gizzard incorporates elements of jazz to expand and stretch their sound, while Wand does the same thing with their own soothing modern pop, especially when it utilizes the voice of keyboardist Sofia Arreguin. The groups also notably diverge in terms of singing and lyricism, Gizzard embraces echo-style singing and mythological lyrics that live up to the band name King Gizzard and the You Know the Rest, while Hanson and Arreguin lean into sonorously mumbling vaguely trippy lyrics (compounded by a disappointing lack of wizard references from a band named Wand).
Hanson and company demonstrate the psychedelic thrash they do best in the title track, “Perfume,” really two distinct and energetic tracks spliced together by an ambient noise break, but overall it contains some heart-pounding moments of intensity, well-befitting associates of the face of modern-garage Ty Segall. Hanson and drummer Evan Burrows were even touring members of Segall’s backing band, The Muggers, along with King Tuff.
The intensity continues on the next track “Town Meeting,” which includes the most interesting sonic explorations on the EP and ends on a trip-tastic musical breakdown. It’s the kind of quick-paced experiment that alt-punks Guerilla Toss get up to in their own realm of neo-psychedelic underground and ends up producing the best track on this EP.
Unfortunately, the EP begins to let that intensity slip like sand through its fingers on the very next track, “The Gift,” also where things begin to take a poppier turn. There’s a dreaminess to the track, coupled with a popping bass sound and a solid guitar crunch at the end, that ties the song together, but it’s a turn around the corner that the EP doesn’t come back from. “Hiss” is a 50-second ambient track that’s inclusion is largely questionable on a seven-song EP (even if “Perfume” is just two songs) especially since it doesn’t really transition into the first actual pop track, “Pure Romance.” It’s such a pleasant pop track that you can actually understand the words they’re singing. It’s a fine song, as Wand is never less than smooth sounding, but outside of its guitar licks and one of the better vocal melodies on the EP, it just doesn’t capture interest the same way Wand’s more frantic material does.
The next track, “Train Whistle,” is the strangest entity out of the whole project, not leaning towards pop or garage rock, and instead leans into straight psychedelic experimentation. It’s strangely akin to experimentations from psych-rock pioneers the Grateful Dead, particularly their ’60s jam “Caution: Do Not Stop on the Tracks.” Both songs use steady, pounding rhythms to evoke a moving train, an interesting connection, although it being intentional is doubtful considering Wand is a psych band that wrote a song called “Fire on the Mountain (I-II-III)” without any Grateful Dead references. “Train Whistle” is peak trippiness for Hanson and co. and the kind of risk the entire EP needed, the only true experiment in a record full of safe choices.
Finally, the EP ends on “I Will Keep You Up,” the pop track that finally scrubs away any trace of Wand’s dirty, garage sound. The song offers a lovely duet between Hanson and Arreguin, and a blissful mingling of piano and guitar, creating an ideal listen for, say, falling asleep. There’s nothing wrong with a serene and soothing mood, and the track sounds nothing less than pretty, but after a record that opened with a bang and a crash of psych rock intensity, it ends on a plodding note that fades away almost without notice. “I Will Keep You Up,” is evocative of water droplets rippling upon a lake, its trembling gentle and dream-like. But the droplets come after you’ve cannon-balled and made a huge splash; the water was already moving.
“Perfume” finds Wand in a time of transition, but it sounds more and more like a transition into compromise. The EP proves the five-piece can produce material that is never less than pretty but can fall just short of compelling. They offer seven tracks that almost form a new mission statement going forward, garage-pop fusion, but tellingly do not flow into each other, and can even make each other weaker.