Dusted Reviews

Wooden Wand - Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Wooden Wand

Album: Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: Aug. 2, 2005

Although still a relatively new entity, the New York-based troupe Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice have left a steadily growing trail of somewhat hard-to-find recordings in their wake. This appears to be the year they "blow up," as they already have a reissue of their De Stijl LP XIAO (originally released in 2003), a brand new recording for the 3 Lobed label called l'un marquer conte la moissonneuse, and another LP or two on the shelves.

The Vanishing Voice are an ad hoc ensemble, changing almost with every release and including some rather prominent noisemakers in their ranks (Tovah O'Rourke of Dead Machines was once a member, and Magik Marker drummer Pete Nolan now counts himself as one).

Wooden Wand, the primary band leader, is actually one James Jackson Toth, who's been kicking around New York for a number of years in a variety of different contexts. Lately, both Wand and his Voice have aligned themselves with more prominent exponents of the "No Fun" scene, and indeed played a brief, unannounced set at this year's Festival of the same name in the back yard of the Hook right next to the grill. Good stuff.

Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice's recorded material, at least from what I've heard, is pretty hit or miss, sometimes even within the same track. I admire their attempt to strike a balance between the noise-niks and the folkies, often wedding busted electronics and acoustic figures to improvisatory song structures. However, they have a propensity for meandering that can be a little annoying at times. Surprisingly, Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg, Toth's solo debut under the Wooden Wand moniker, forgoes much of the racket that emerges with his band and instead emphasizes a clutch of bizarre and often excellent songs. More often than not it's taut and concise, featuring just Wand and his acoustic guitar.

Generally speaking, Toth tends to forgo overly intricate instrumentation and instead focuses on tuneful strums and circular chord progressions. There's a definite blues element here (particularly in the vocal delivery at times); but then again, there's that currently pervasive acid folk vibe at work as well, channeling the spirits of people like the Incredible String Band or related acts like C.O.B. Musically, it's fairly simple stuff, but when coupled with his evocative lyrics, makes for a pretty interesting listen.

It's the more upbeat numbers that work best here. "Vengeance, Pt. 2" evokes the feeling of a carefree night on the back porch, and in terms of lyrics, it's a great narrative that climaxes with his tossed off assertion that "God says vengeance is mine." "Perch Modifier" works in a similar vein, as does "Babylon the Great, Pt. 3," with both tracks sporting great stories to match against the spare accompaniment.

Tracks like "Sundrum Ladies" and "(Ask a) Sufist Chief" exhibit much darker motifs and are stuffed with impressive, brief flourishes - some basic finger picking here, a nice arching vocal melody there, and some nifty psych-drenched electric guitar throughout. Time and time again, though, it's Toth’s lyrics that consistently impress. He forgoes introspection in favor of a series of images that are culled as much from spiritual rumination as they are lysergic imagery.

It's pretty much a given that we'll all be hearing a lot more from Wooden Wand in the not too distant future, either all by his lonesome or in consort with the Vanishing Voice. From where I'm standing right now, Harem of the Sundrum ranks as some of the best work from his quickly burgeoning catalogue - simple, well-played, and exceedingly confident and in command of his words and sounds. It's not the most mind-blowing thing I've heard in the wake of reincarnated folk forms, but that doesn't diminish its quality in the slightest.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Wooden Wand

James and the Quiet

Read More

View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about Soft Abuse

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.