With luck, the freak-folk tag preemptively applied to almost any new artist or band signed to an indie rock label but doing things with some pastoral influence has lost its significance. As late as last year, following the ascension of Devendra Banhart as America's new favorite bearded bard plucking an acoustic guitar, it was as if you couldn't reference Bob Dylan or Pentangle—or free jazz or acoustic guitars, for that matter—without becoming tied to that scene. Bands like Akron/Family were on another tip entirely, but their association with Michael Gira and Young God Records, who fostered Banhart's career, immediately locked them into place.
Knoxville's Wooden Wand has been no exception, his instant, continuous crossover between noise-laden campfire songs and blissful, bucolic sing-a-longs earning him instant rank in that pigeonhole. And, while it's certainly true that Wooden Wand injects folk-based progressions with outbound inclinations, his music extends beyond revivalist intentions.
Like the best of his fellow American experimentalists, Wooden Wand—the alter ego of James Toth, a 27-year-old ex-Brooklynite—seems intent upon trying everything at least once. In three years, his name has been associated with some 60 releases, from his own tiny Polyamory label to now-defunct (as of last week) Kill Rock Stars associates 5 Rue Christine. Sure, he sometimes gets it wrong. His records have certainly suffered through neophyte moments of virginal opportunism. But—like Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny, who seems to share this irrepressible spirit for trying and failing and trying again only to succeed in brilliant bits—Wooden Wand seems bravely open to anything at any time. For that reason, it's hard to say if this tour comes with beatific harmonies or ultra-abrasive evangelism or if it's even worth seeing. But, if Toth and whomever he's with can conjure half the magic of this year's beautiful Second Attention or the ESP-recalling Gipsy Freedom, it could be transcendence.
Wooden Wand plays on Monday, Oct. 30 at 10 p.m. at Nightlight in Chapel Hill. Tickets are $6.