Review: Wooden Wand – Death Seat

This is the first Wooden Wand album to be released on the label of Swans’ Michael Gira – Young God records – and is blessed by the presence of the man himself in the producer’s chair. Needless to say, Gira is familiar with the process of expanding sing-songwriter pieces into grand and colourful arrangements – see both Swans and Angels of Light – but once again, he also showcases his ability to retain the warmth and electricity of real-time performance in these recordings. Regardless of my views on some of the songwriting here, at no point does Death Seat sound like an indulgent exercise in overdubbing. The production is pretty much spot on throughout.

But it’s when the album reclines into cosy country-blues territory that I find myself switching off somewhat – when Death Seat is at its most pleasant and immediate, caught in gentle 6/8 sways of piano, tambourine and acoustic strum (“Sleepwalking After Midnight” and “Bobby” are prominent examples). It’s the sound of someone immersed in their craft to the extent that the melodies flood out almost on their own accord, and whilst I’m sure some will be endeared by the caressing, soothing accompaniment to Toth’s melancholic tales, personally I struggled to make any real emotional contact.

For me, Death Seat is most engaging when it slinks into dark and cramped spaces, and it’s for this reason that “Servant To Blues” is my album stand-out. Toth sounds desperate and sinister in the recurring line, “Only a servant to blues would wait this long for you”, whilst the music thuds and drones to form an eerie and damp cocoon for him to crawl into. Tracks such as “The Mountain” and “I Wanna Make a Difference” are similarly captivating for the bleak territories they occupy, conjuring images of Toth hunched over his guitar with his face intermittently illuminated in candlelight flicker – it’s a pity that I feel detached from much of what Death Seat has to offer, as these explicitly darker passages always have me utterly engrossed.