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Monday, November 20, 2017 
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Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice
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The Flood
Troubleman Unlimited
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In the small-town Baptist churches of my youth, it was not uncommon to hear preachers talk about people who were "drunk with the spirit." The idea was that you could become so overwhelmed with the experience of God that you would become a little goofy — giving away possessions, speaking in tongues, perhaps even singing a little... without the hymnal or Wurlitzer accompaniment, just because it felt like the right thing to do. I never observed this personally. My fellow churchgoers were pretty tightly controlled, unimaginative people. But I imagine being drunk with the spirit would sound a lot like Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice, a freewheeling drone-folk collective that takes its religion seriously, but in a tipsily euphoric way that has nothing to do with sitting still in a church pew.

Wooden Wand are an enormously productive musical organization, cranking out fuzzily mesmeric recordings every few weeks or so. For a band that most people started hearing about this year or last, its discography is already daunting, starting with dozens of hard-to-find cassettes and leading up to this last year's four-CD burst of label-blessed prolificness. (In 2005, WW reissued Xiao, Buck Dharma and Harem of the Sundrum Ladies, launched this new one, The Flood, and put the final touches on Gipsy Freedom, which is out on 5RC.)

The Flood has six cuts, three of them the long hallucinatory meditations familiar from Xiao, and three more contained, traditional folk-blues songs. The more extended songs are the most transformative, leading the listener through extended dreamscapes of bent folk-centric tones. The opener, "Snake Earl" explores oddly tuned acoustic finger-picking for more than half of its 10-minute length, before Satya Sai's pure, mystic voice breaks through. She sounds a bit like Katie Eastburn from Young People, moving smoothly from lullaby sweetness to wild keening drama, and she gives the piece some needed structure. The title cut comes next, its ritual drone reinforced by deep-toned percussion and squealing, feverish violins. The words are chanted here, rather than sung, warning about a coming catastrophe that will drown out the world. There's something disturbing about this cut, the equanimity with which the band intones words like "This kingdom's due to drown," the otherness of the notes coaxed from guitar and strings. It is bug-eyed weird and internally consistent, frightening and fascinating at the same time.

The next three songs are, relatively speaking, bite-sized and accessible. None last more than four minutes and all belong to recognizable folk and blues traditions. The first "(I Wanna Live on) Sunbeam Creek" is flat-out beautiful, a succession of long-hanging acoustic guitar chords left to float on sunlight air. "Dogpaddlin' Home in Line With My Lord" is similarly simple and affecting. There's a suggestion of gospel in its grand upsweeping chorus of "I've been away from your house/ Way too long" and an unembarrassed, appealing affirmation of faith in its images. You don't often think of a believer dogpaddling his way to righteousness, but in Wooden Wand's hands, the metaphor seems concrete and real rather than silly. The last of these shorter songs, "Lifetime of the Season (Interlude)" is straight Delta blues, warped with reverberating guitar tones and slapped non-standard percussion.

The disc closes with perhaps its most impressive cut, "Satyn Sai Sweetback Plays Oxblood Boots." Like the other extended tracks, this one takes its time getting going, playing with an all-percussion interlock of knocks, pounds and clicks for a full minute before even the faintest hint of violin enters in, mosquito-like, in the interstices. Then the hallucinatory, heavily reverbed words come in, each word echoing like a rock thrown into a pond, until the sense disappears and only mood remains. Repetitive hammering, harsh industrial sounds, mysterious chants — it all coalesces into a trance-like journey through altered states.

The Flood is another interesting excursion from one of acid folk's most free-spirited bands.


by Jennifer Kelly




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