Music

Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice: XIAO

Justin Cober-Lake

Wooden Wand (aka James Toth) produces a Southern gothic sound, but he's more connected to the New York anti-folk scene than he is the Georgian backwoods.


Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice

XIAO

Label: Troubleman Unlimited
US Release Date: 2005-06-21
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

WOODEN WAND
Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg
(Soft Abuse)
Rating: 6
US release date: 21 June 2005
UK release date: Available as import

by Justin Cober-Lake
PopMatters Music Special Sections Editor
woodenwand-xiao.jpg http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?path=ASIN/B0009IORK2&link_code=as2&camp=1789&tag=popmatters-20&creative=9325 http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/stat?id=aLczRZIEnRg&offerid=78941&type=3&subid=0&tmpid=1826&RD_PARM1=http%253A%252F%252Fphobos.apple.com%252FWebObjects%252FMZStore.woa%252Fwa%252FviewAlbum%253Fs%253D143441%2526playListId%253D77829622%26partnerId%3D30
:. e-mail this article
:. print this article
:. comment on this article

Wooden Wand (aka James Toth) produces a Southern gothic sound, but he's more connected to the New York anti-folk scene than he is the Georgian backwoods. While his music moves ever toward rural dissipation, his recorded output advances the technological path from CD-R to honest to goodness CDs on known labels. Accompanying the media upgrade has been an increase invisibility, as Toth's recent solo album, Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg, and latest full-band outing, a reissue of 2003's XIAO with the Vanishing Voice, have started getting attention. Primarily the bearded indie kids are porching out to this music now, but it's worth a further look whether you're an old-time gruffian or a latte listener.

Toth's solo recording contains far more conventional songwriting, performed primarily as guitar and voice numbers. Tracks like "Leave Your Perch..." and "Vengeance, pt. 2" won't shock you with their structures or attitudes, but they're delivered with sophistication, at least in the lo-fi sense. Toth opens the album with the drawn-out yet captivating "Leave Your Perch...", setting the album in an old folk gathering, maybe a Village basement, but the following track "Perch Modifier" moves us west, as Toth delves into the country side of his aesthetic. He turns up the tempo then for "Vengeance, pt. 2", echoing the college-folk music that I can only guess has ceased to make the rounds (at least I haven't seen tour dates for my boys Life in General in some time).

It's three songs and three distinct but related sounds for Toth, and he sticks to that idea throughout the disc. The sequencing works throughout with each track bringing something surprising yet appropriate into the mix. Toth holds these varied approaches together by maintaining a relatively somber feel (minus a few lines delivered through a smirk) and by returning to questions of spirit. He utilizes Christian imagery and language, but never settles into that religious view, moving instead in more generalized concepts ("I am the air and water"). By the end of the Harem, Toth comes across as either an all-knowing but partially-sharing guru or a lost pilgrim; in either case, the invitation's open to walk with him.

If you take that walk, at some point, you'll settle down to rest for the night. While Harem is the voice of the campfire troubadour easing off thestrain of the day, XIAO is the haunting that takes place at the edge of the firelight. His solo work doesn't stretch tradition that much, but here he and his band sacrifice form and melody for the sake of ghostly experimentation and seeking. The album opens with chime-like strings backing dueling erratic vocals by Toth. "Caribou Christ in the Great Void" unrolls in lugubrious psychedelia, narrated by female vocals. The spirituality of the solo album moves even further from religion, as three bizarre "Christ" tracks push into an almost earthy faith, even as Toth refers insistently to the "belly of the whale". Spirituality is no more easily negotiated than is structure on these six songs.

XIAO works to push the boundaries of what constitutes folk, but it hardly seems fair to put it in that genre. Occasionally sounding like the indigenous calls of some unknown group, Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice construct music that has less to do with what wefolk and more to do with primal explorations. Fans of Animal Collective's most adventurous and least rhythmically-centered tracks will find a similar attitude and conceptual frame on XIAO (although not always related sounds). The plodding moments of "Cobra Christ of the Cabbages" turn into horror soundtrack fare, and are creepier than any movie I've seen in some time. The album as a whole marries spirituality with the ominous; there's a wild-eyed preacher about to kill.

Across these two albums, we can get a sense of the range of what's being lumped together as freak-folk (or insert modifier like "avant", "nu", etc.). As a solo artist, Wooden Wand plays with tradition, never settling comfortably into a genre, yet maintaining orienting points of reference in his music. When joined with the Vanishing Voice, however, he goes off with the band into spacious trips that remain de-centered and mostly impenetrable. Listening to one album or the other is hammock-dream or a nightmare; as a pair, they're reason to keep your eyes open.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image