Wand used to be a garage-psych band with a heavy, lo-fi fuzz style in the vein of Ty Segall. But for their latest release, Laughing Matter, they went full-on psychedelic rock. They adopted a sound that could be Radiohead in another universe, but with much more spaced-out psychedelia, fuzzy guitars, and mind-bending riffs.
The opening track ‘Scarecrow’ sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. It starts off with an atmospheric intro, with frontman Corey Hanson’s Thom Yorke-esque crooning layered over the trippy, phased out guitar, accented by keyboard chords and subdued drums. It slowly builds over the course of the song, eventually adding in more prominent guitar lines. The song structure is pretty interesting with its lack of any clear verses or choruses.
Many of the songs here are similar in that way. Although some poppy hooks are present, the album has a lot more variety than typical verse-chorus-verse. There are often extended build-ups that lead to an exciting climax. One song, ‘Evening Star’, starts with a minute of noisy guitar, and then some very sparse guitar and drums with tender vocals. Then in the second half, it erupts with ripping guitars backed by keys which made me imagine a heavier, more aggressive version of OK Computer-era Radiohead.
The album has plenty of variety in tone, while still staying within its theme of psychedelia. Relaxing ballads ‘High Planes Drifter’, ‘Jennifer’s Gone’, and ‘Wonder (II)’ break up the more heavy psych of ‘Wonder’, ‘Walkie Talkie’, ‘Thin Air’, and ‘Lucky’s Sight’. In fact ‘Wonder (II)’ instrumentally mirrors ‘Wonder’ from earlier in the album (which is one of the stronger tracks, and probably the one with the most conventional rock music structure), and resolves the anxieties it brought on: “Listen to this panic attack, it’s screaming in your head” turns into “All your friends are here for you, honey.”
If I had to criticize the album for something it would be its length. It’s pretty much all great, but 15 tracks over 67 minutes don’t make for an easy listen. For that reason, it didn’t really grab me when I first checked it out, other than a few standout songs. It could do without the ambient interludes ‘Bubble’, ‘Hare’, and ‘Tortoise’, and the 9-minute-long ‘Airplane’ spends a bit too much time building up without really taking off until the last 2 minutes. Although when it does get going, it’s as good as anything else on the album.
Some of the other high points on Laughing Matter are the euphoric synth lines in the chorus of ‘Thin Air’ and the driving beat backing the noisy guitars on ‘Lucky’s Sight’. ‘xoxo’ is another great song, picking up where ‘Scarecrow’ left off. It features a similar build-up, this time with a prominent synth sound that leads into a climax featuring an anthemic cacophony of horns that evokes another great psychedelic band, Spiritualized.
Overall I was very happy with Laughing Matter. It’s easily among my favorite few for the year, and that’s with some heavy competition. They’re bound to soon become a bigger name in the American psych-rock scene. Given Wand’s growth from their older work to this one, I’m very excited to see where they’ll go next.
Try: 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13.