Wovenhand released “The Laughing Stalk,” the Denver-based band’s seventh studio album, in September – so we may be a little late in reviewing. But then, so is Friday night’s CD Release Dance at the Oriental Theater – November 16, 9:00 PM, with Reverend Deadeye – a little late in coming (and we’re happy to take advantage of the timing).
The reason for the separation between release and Dance Party, actually, is mostly the band’s recently (well, actually, consistently) busy schedule. Frontman – and Denver enigma – David Eugene Edwards is not only leading the newly re-formed four piece, but is also an intrinsic part of the re-genesis of legendary Australian band Crime and the City Solution, alongside some other musical heavy hitters like C&CS founder Simon Bonney, Alexander Hacke (most famously of Einstürzende Neubauten – and this latest record’s producer) and his wife, artist & vocalist Danielle de Picciotto, Jim White (of Dirty Three) and more. The Bonney-led rebirth of the band is big news – on the supergroup scale for post punk – and it’s taken an understandable amount or Edwards’ time.
Still – Wovenhand is alive and strong, maybe stronger than ever. After 2010’s The Threshingfloor and some lengthy touring worldwide, longtime bassist – and longtime friend – Pascal Humbert quit to take on his family’s French vineyards and guitarist Peter van Laerhoven left as well, leaving Edwards and drummer Ordy Garrison alone with the keys. For The Laughing Stalk, the group added new bassist Gregory Garcia Jr and additional guitarist Chuck French (of Git Some, Planes Mistaken for Stars and more). The result has been called “… the most heavy incarnation” of Wovenhand, ever (which is saying something, considering the band’s characteristic gravity), but there’s more than a hint of levity in the mix now, too – and much joy.
We talked to Edwards recently about the C&CS project, touring, and some other things – but, most importantly, The Laughing Stalk. He had a lot to say about it, and so do we.
The Laughing Stalk jumps out of the gate immediately, almost joyous, with “Long Horn,” a rousing tune that envisages the beginning of a Western adventure, speeding across wide, sweeping landscapes – atop horses, motorcycles or landspeeders, it doesn’t matter – the feeling is one of conquest, maybe even victory. Wovenhand always combine unique instrumentation with old folk tendencies, and lay them atop strong, driving Native American rhythms – but never more excitingly than with this record.
It sounds live – the whole record does, really, which was by design. About working with Hacke – with whom Edwards became friends out of the C&CS project – the band has nothing but respect.
“Hacke is great – no complaints. Of course he’s brilliant at what he does,” said Edwards. “But he was happy to not have to change much after we recorded it.”
“It was recorded differently than our other records; Hacke didn’t have to change much – which he liked,” he explained. “He added his… ‘special sauce,’ of course – especially in the low end, cause that’s where he lives – but not much more.”
“We recorded this one basically live, because everyone has always asked for a live album,” Edwards added. “The live shows are so much different than the records, they have a different feel – everyone keeps asking for that. And I’ve never liked live recordings – so we put this together that way. We think it’s a good result.”
The Native American influence has long been a constant in Edwards’ compositions and performance – a mainstay. Is it born out of lineage, or upbringing, or both? According to Edwards, it’s a little of both; it’s as much a part of his internal makeup as it is a part of the landscape.
“There’s some Native American in my lineage, but more on the peripheral,” he explained. “It was something we grew up with, that was important in my life, in my parents’ lives and in family. It’s always been something they – we – were proud of. There’s no real spiritual significance to it, though. It comes in through the blood … but also from where we are.”
It’s no surprise to Edwards that this record emanates a lighter, more exuberant feel than previous Wovenhand material. It starts at the title.
“It’s [the title] meant to be light, to imply a little comedy,” he explained. “This record… reflects my current situation, where my life is right now. It’s joyful, filled with humor.”
“In The Temple” is a perfect case in point. This piece is anthemic – on a level with what bands like Coldplay might feel like they’re playing (instead of the sentimental and mostly vacuous treacle they really are). It lifts your heart rate from the first squalls of its almost church-organ base, and continues to build – tempting you to begin speaking in tongues in response to Edwards’ witnessing.
The feeling continues to rise with the onset of “King O King,” maybe the only tune on the record that reflects Wovenhand’s 2010 tour with Tool. With its force, this is the record’s most evident victory march – replete with biblical proclamations in its verses, and significant liberation in the chorus.
Wovenhand shares much of its personality with Joy Division – in fact, their ability to cover the legendary Manchester post punk icons without coming across disingenuously or awful (sadly, this is the case with too many other bands that attempt to cover JD’s material) is unmatched – especially live. For a taste on record, look to “Truth” (actually a New Order song – but one written in the shadow of Ian Curtis’s suicide) on The Threshingfloor. For an even more intoxicating example, catch them live to see if they cover “Heart and Soul,” a semi-constant, fantastic piece.
That said, “Closer,” the fifth track on The Laughing Stalk, isn’t meant to relate to Joy Division’s last album of the same name. Rather, this song is a meditation on a Biblical verse: Proverbs 18:24 – “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,/but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
“It’s something I’ve been singing/playing, between songs, for about the last two years,” Edwards pointed out. “We just put it together into a whole song.”
The result is an isolated, private treatise of gratitude, it seems, to someone in his life. Quiet, desperate; the song emotes a powerful mantra, anchored in Garrison’s incongruent drumming and whispy guitar, ending with a nod to early Echo and the Bunnymen, from a Dylan perspective.
“Maize” settles in next – a song that’s in itself a play on its title. Native American-influenced rhythms match feet running through a looping maze, lead by a beautifully creepy piano, while Edwards describes awe of the height and depth of the canyon through which the Philistines pursued Samson – in Judges 15 – before he turned on them and “… Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.” The sound inspires such a clear vision of the pursuit, the massacre, and the rage of the giant hero at the refusal of his Delilah – and the ultimate victory he feels after laying wast to a thousand men.
And the song sits at the acme of the record – aptly named as the product of such a mirthful stalk.
A close second plateau is the punk/folk “As Wool,” a fun romp that promises to be memorable live. From the drums to the thick, faster chords and guitar lick of the song’s verses, to Edwards’ playful preaching, this one harkens back to a more aggressive, simpler – yet no less purpose-filled – time.
After the release party at The Oriental this Friday night, Wovenhand are off on a West Coast tour, and then get a well-deserved break for the Holidays. It’s been busy for Edwards.
“I just got back – and just had gotten back the last time we left again. I’m busy – unusually busy, for me – which is something I try not to be,” he said. “We’re touring the West coast after Friday night – San Diego, San Francisco, Tucson, Santa Fe, Los Angeles and other places out there.”
After the Holidays, it’s back on the road again for Edwards, along with Crime & the City Solution, followed by the release of the supergroup’s full album, slated to drop in the spring.
About his experience with Bonney and the rest of the Crime crew:
“The experience has been great. I mean, it’s a lot of big stuff, big people – it’s a pretty large project,” he said. “It’s going well – we like how it’s turning out.”
Need some proof? Listen to the album’s the epic “Maize,” below, and then head out to the Oriental Theater Friday night.