By: Steve Hochman
A ganglion is a cluster of nerve cells. "Ganglion Reef" is the title of the debut album from the Los Angeles band Wand. If that makes you expect some sensory overload, you’d be right.
The quartet brings spirit, style and appealing pop sensibilities to the world of fuzzed-out, DIY psychedelia. But it also brings wit and whimsy, as the song titles “Flying Golem”and “Strange Inertia (Cntl Alt Death)” make plain. Throughout this album, the band is as equally inclined to poke fun at its chosen genre as it is to embrace it.
But of course if “Strange Inertia”and “Flying Golem” were only whimsy, they wouldn’t, well, fly. The thing is, these are good songs. Wand may joke, but this is no joke act. And the band does embrace the genre: Right from the start, with the album’s opening song “Send/Receive (Mind),” Wand firmly sets the controls for the heart of the sun.
Listen to "Flying Golem":
Early Pink Floyd, the Syd Barrett years in particular, are at the heart of Wand’s sun. Frontman Chris Hanson has affection for and affinity with Barrett’s askew, lysergic bent. But a range of psychedelic styles get the nod here: “Clearer” recalls Status Quo’s ‘60s classic “Pictures of Matchstick Men”—and while it’s hard to make out the lyrics, it sounds like Hanson sings something about Lucy? Maybe in the skies? Distinct lyrics are not the Wand's strong point, nor really the point.
In the context of the current, vibrant California fuzz-rock scene, Wand at times leans closer to the pop fun of fellow Angelenos Foxygen than to tireless garage-savant Ty Segall, who is putting this album out on his new GOD? Records label and taking the band on tour as his opening act.
Where Wand comes into its own is in some of the textures, including places where Hanson adds occasional electronic noises to the guitar-centric sound —think Brian Eno in early Roxy Music, not Rick Wakeman in Yes. And there are signs of ambition to balance the whimsy: “Fire On the Mountain” goes through several phases in the course of its five minutes, from floaty to funky-bouncy to freak-folky.
Ganglion Reef ends with “Generator Larping,” its longest and most sonically refined piece, a closing note pointing to a world of possibilities. Not that we’re predicting this will be the next Radiohead, let alone Pink Floyd. Of course, Radiohead has never really been known for a sense of humor. Nor has Pink Floyd. Maybe that will be the Wand magic.