Wooden Wand

Death Seat

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Sometimes the man behind Death Seat is Wooden Wand, sometimes simply Wand, and in the past, part of Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice, but he's always James Jackson Toth, and he's always an uncompromising singer/songwriter. That remains true on this outing, which is the first Wooden Wand album to appear on Michael Gira's boutique label Young God Records. In the past, the label has been known for freak-folk linchpin Devendra Banhart's neo-hippie musings, but while the Wooden Wand style remains an organic, lo-fi, acoustic-based sound, Toth is nobody's hippie. He's influenced by the poetic side of the outlaw country camp, and more than anything, Death Seat suggests what the dark country/folk visions of Townes Van Zandt might have sounded like if the latter were born into the indie folk generation. Not that these moody, imagery-laden tunes have no contemporary reference points -- they could also be envisioned as a product of the evil twin of Vetiver's Andy Cabic, or an alternate-universe version of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, if his highness traded his Yeats collection for a Bukowski library. Although Toth is joined by a number of guests on Death Seat, including members of Mercury Rev, Lambchop, Silver Jews, and Big Blood, the songs still conjure up a lonely world of dusty, wind-blown narratives from a troubadour doomed to roam the earth with nothing but his own mournful ballads for company. Even when Toth deals in the kind of themes that would entail warm-and-fuzzy warbling in the hands of another artist, he turns things toward a deliciously dark and twisted path. On "Until Wrong Looks Right," for instance, his approach to the subject of procreation brings the questions "What if we have a daughter who we can't trust?/What if we have a son and we hate his guts?" He even finds a way to turn heavenly symbols into something unwholesome, singing "Send me your benevolent angels/I'll make whores of them one by one" on "Ms. Mowse." In a less skilled writer's hands, this sort of thing might be off-putting, but with Toth behind the wheel, Death Seat makes for a weirdly wonderful ride.

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