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Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice - XIAO

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Artist: Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice

Album: XIAO

Label: Troubleman Unlimited

Review date: Sep. 6, 2005

Wooden Wand And The Vanishing Voice fits somewhere in the same sector as No Neck Blues Band, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, and the MV + EE Medicine Show. They are an urban collective (although rumor has it that some core members recently moved to the hills of Tennessee) that makes rural-oriented music which, to stand a recent Mark E. Smith lyric on its head, the real country folk would hate so much. There ain’t no Kenny Chesney rah-rah action happening here. This stuff tends to attract more hyperbole than thoughtful analysis; maybe it’s all those limited pressing, unlimited price CD-Rs, or the “you’re with us or you’re clueless” attitude these performers can give off in concert. So let’s look behind Wooden Wand’s curtain and see the wizard’s face.

XIAO originally came out as a limited-pressing LP on De Stijl, and the occasional pop indicates that the CD edition was mastered straight from vinyl; like those Finnish freak-folkies, WWVV seem to like a little playback noise. The music is proudly poly-stylistic, encompassing woozy wah-wah workouts, harmonium drones, spooky chants, squiggly synth licks, and echoing processional percussion. Despite claims made by James Toth (Mr. Wooden Wand to you) in an interview for Foxy Digitalis that they want to stave off “the dreaded improv tag,” the music sounds pretty formless. There’s usually a core vocal melody or foundational rhythm, but everything around it sounds spontaneously generated. Maybe that’s the idea; to be spontaneous, but not necessarily to sound like “improvised music?” In any case, pieces like “Lions In Love” and “”Weird Wisteria Tangles Carrion Christ But Intends No Harm” do capture an Art Ensemble Of The Campfire vibe that’s rather appealing if you’re in a patient mood. The latter song title alludes to the explicitly Christian themes that set WWVV apart from their fellows. All of the decipherable vocal parts are drawn from Biblical tales and delivered in a decidedly contemporary vernacular. In “Paper Trail Blues,” Jesus tells a “rich creep” to “Get rid of all your apartment houses and rent-a-trucks.” And in “Weird Wisteria…,” Toth asks “Hey Jonah, you making good time in the belly of the whale?” No one answers.

Are you scratching your head yet? That seems to be WWVV’s objective – to confuse and intrigue, to make something happen but not spell out what it is.

By Bill Meyer

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