Beginning in 2013 as a gnarly psych band with garage tendencies, Los Angeles' Wand quickly made several albums of weird and suffocating music. They ran with the quickly evolving scene that included Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, and bandleader Cory Hanson's songs fell into similarly scuzzy territory. A shift began in Wand's sound around the release of 2017's Plum, the first album from the group to reflect a new lineup and a new democratic approach to songwriting. Plum and the subsequent 2018 EP Perfume set the tone for the drastic shift the band has been undergoing, and Laughing Matter cements these changes. While earlier Wand albums weren't absent of mellower moments, they came in the form of acid folk-modeled acoustic psychedelia and were nestled between blasts of disorienting metallic garage. The Wand on Laughing Matter is all but unrecognizable from those early days, and even tends toward moodier, more textural sounds than they did just two years earlier on Plum. The 15 pieces that make up the album were sculpted from lengthy improvisations and distilled into moody, often paranoid songs. Opening with the nervous, scratchy rhythm of "Scarecrow," Wand suddenly sound more indebted to Radiohead than ever before. Hanson's pained vocals draw closer to the style of Thom Yorke as the album stretches on, often gelling into bright harmonies with bandmate Sofia Arreguin. This haunted, darkened mood continues for much of the album, with songs like "Evening Star" and "Airplane" exploring the same beautifully tormented sound that Radiohead perfected in their first steps away from conventional rock. There are still echoes of Wand's psych-rock past scattered throughout Laughing Matter, but they're increasingly faint. "Walkie Talkie" rides a clunky bounce that sounds part Faust, part Blue Cheer, but overrides the rock energy with an upbeat melody. "Thin Air" pulls out some of the heavy fuzz that early Wand songs were built on, but pulls back for a far more dynamic reading. The album explores different ideas and inspirations at length, making it hard to digest in one sitting. Those who stick around to the end will be surprised to hear the ambient atmospheres of the album's second half give way to the Velvet Underground homage "Jennifer's Gone," which closes the album. Laughing Matter continues Wand's headstrong push forward. It's the final nail in the coffin for their garage roots, but they sound rejuvenated and excited in their unbridled exploration of new sounds.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas