"What has Wooden Wand been up to lately?" It was a simple question that turned into an epic email thread with a friend a year ago; the kind where you find yourself a sudden apologist for a sprawling, decade-long discography. There was the noise jam-band phase, the bedroom acoustic recordings mistaken for "freak folk," the major-label "flop" that had more to do with the crumbling remains of the label than the artist... Wooden Wand's James Jackson Toth has always been prolific, but fans didn't always stick around, and the ever-shifting monikers probably didn't help. More to the point, the ever-morphing Toth was never lost, opting instead to simply wander down whatever musical path made sense.
In recent years, Toth has been unleashing fuzzed-out rockers in the spirit of Neil Young, a guy who knows a thing or two about wandering. It sort of began with Briarwood in 2011, but solidified with the excellent Blood Oaths of the New Blues, which came out at the beginning of this year. Now, we already have Wooden Wand & The World War IV with a self-titled record featuring what's become Toth's own Crazy Horse: a crew of Birmingham, Ala., musicians who lock in like a hound around the neck of a boar. Just listen to the guitars growl and howl in "Directions to Debbie Harry's House."
There's some classic '80s SST catalog in "Debbie Harry's House," too, with a little Husker Du overdrive here, a little Meat Puppets melody there. It's all gnarly and distorted and downtrodden, big-men-with-big-feelings kind of stuff. The flipside to World War IV works out more feedback demons, if that's what you're looking for, but I always go for Toth's songwriterly jams, more of which have popped on his relatively new Bandcamp page for unreleased mixes, live bootlegs and demos. (For starters, I recommend the loner-country Death Seat: The Murfreesboro Mix and the gritty Wasteland of the Free bootleg.)
One of the most endearing parts of Toth's must-read Neil Young discography countdown for Stereogum was the part where he writes that "a tattoo on my right wrist reads 'WWNYD,' elevating Neil to the status of Jesus Christ," which about says everything that needs to be said. Worship aside, World War IV might be Wooden Wand's most immediate record in years, a rumbling darkness that looks for light.
Wooden Wand & The World War IV comes out Oct. 15 on Three Lobed Recordings.