Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice
ooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice are a collective of musicians based in New York, and to the casual listener, that might seem very strange. Strange, because the paths that WWVV travel are almost forcefully non-urban—their sounds, atmospheres, and thoughts are ethereal in a way that, if not distinctly arboreal, are certainly not metropolitan. At no point, for instance, has Manhattan ever inspired me to utter, “Peace is a phoenix / Right out of the sky!”
A deeper look, however, reveals that New York is the only place that a band like WWVV could truly form. Because of the city’s reigning avant garde music scene? Because of a long tradition of acceptance for creativity and improvisation? How about because New York is the only city with a population dense enough where the idea of “A psychedelic folk collective named ‘Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice’ that mixes jazz and pop and, like, voodoo with an inscrutable history, an untraceable release schedule, and no real regard for normal band dynamics” is appealing to more than one person at a time. (In fact, it’s basically happened twice now—WWVV and blood brothers/sisters No Neck Blues Band.)
So arrives Gipsy Freedom, approximately the band’s fourth recording that you can consistently find outside New York, and their second for 5RC, following 2005’s Buck Dharma. As is probably expected with a band that we heard from several times in 2005 alone, Gipsy does little to change the band’s overall approach—feathery acoustic constructions saddle up against wall-melting psychedelic jams. Don’t mistake consistency for complacency, however: Gipsy Freedom continues to expand the band’s panoramic vision, placing a greater emphasis on jazz instruments and structures, and then splicing and remixing the band’s meld of traditional folk and forward-thinking noise.
Much of the new found jazz emphasis is painted by opening track, “Friend, That Just Isn’t So,” in which a lonely sax ambles for nearly four minutes, its only accompaniment a refreshing, bluesy vocal by Heidi Deihl. The band flirts with jazz more subtly on the remainder of the album, but Deihl’s vox stay, dominating the surprisingly aggressive “Don’t Love the Liar” and the needling “Didn’t It Rain.” Wooden Wand himself—fresh off of last year’s focused solo outing, Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg—is less noticeable here, which may be responsible for the album’s loose, untethered feel. His sole starring role, the red clay of “Dread Effigy,” is the album’s most structured, physical piece.
The rest of Gipsy survives only in murky, diffuse puddles—a ripping electric guitar line from “Dead End Days with Caeser,” the misplaced steel drums of “Hey Pig He Stole My Sound,” and dozens of similarly pure audio tidbits that wash ashore. It’s a tough way for an album to live, an entire hour survived only by unique moments, but the band’s MO belies any real commitment to memorable constructs—a group this prolific can build a career out of minutiae. Gipsy Freedom is WWVV’s most accomplished, nuanced album to date, leaving several barnacles strong and sneaking enough to last until the band hits record once again.