One of the most brilliant releases of 2012 was slightly overlooked, at least in the pages of magazines or in the voluminous number of blogs that are coming around to what an amazing musical community Arizona is fostering. I am guilty of this myself, but there is nothing like making up for lost time and this time I get to do just that. In some ways, it seems appropriate that fans of the band, writers, musicians, lovers all kept Color Is Work by Wooden Indian to themselves, close to their breasts like a secret. I’m not sure why it makes sense, but their music is spiritual without religiosity; it is haunted by ghosts and it haunts the listener, nay possesses them—this is sacred music and it usually stuns people into a sense that this, had it existed in an era previous, would have been passed from friend to friend on a cassette tape with a smile, a nod, and perhaps, a quick, “You simply won’t believe this shit, mate,” kind of attitude. At one point, it appeared that Phoenix would lose two of its more amazing musical adventurists to love of travel, both Wooden Indian and Wizards of Time appeared as though they would scatter to the way of the winds. While Andrew Hiller did indeed depart for fortune found East, there have been no lack of amazing Wizard’s shows since then, and while founder Wally Boudway planned to move that way as well, he in fact remained, and we are all the wealthier for this. It appears Phoenix would only allow one genius beyond its perimeter of its summer insanity. For historical reference, you can read about this tale of two bands here or you can watch the video .
Wooden Indian released Color Is Work during an amazing evening last July at the Icehouse in Phoenix, alongside Wizards of Time in a magnificently delightful gala. It was a startling performance that recalled the first time I ever saw them, which was coincidentally at the Icehouse in Phoenix, but on that occasion it was for the release of What Laura Says last recorded work, TALK. That was the night that introduced me to this amazingly hypnotic band as well as several other acts of which I have been a fan ever since. It still stuns me that, unlike so many other evenings, in which memories bleed into an amalgam of the blurred mind, that evening is still so striking in my mind, specifically for the performances found in Wooden Indian, Wizards of Time, and Brian Lopez. It was a special night, and from that moment on I was hooked. So, it pleased me that just over a year later one of my favorite bands from that night would reconvene with another one of my faves of that same night and bring the Icehouse down once more—this time presenting their album that clocks in at just over half an hour, but shows in technicolor transplendence, their potential from the start.
In all honesty, Color Is Work comes off as a bit of thematic art collage—almost as though it is music for painters to paint paintings for musicians to make music to make writers write about music to … well, you get the idea. In short, it is an atmospheric artsy affair but without pretension or affectation. You only need meet the members of Wooden Indian or spend any credible amount of time with them to realize these visionaries are dipped in pure authenticity.
To review Color Is Work track by track is almost a disservice, as the entire album is a work unto itself, a shimmering tapestry of woven sound. Ethereal in its presentation, it is an abstract expressionist album, an album of mood and mind. Though I’ve listened to it a hundred times, easily, I can recall very few of the lyrics—this isn’t hook heavy stuff, but it will make you think, and it will make you feel. Not to discredit the lyrics, it is that–in no uncertain terms–this is a record of sound and the vocals become an instrument unto themselves to the point that lyrics break down to words and words break down separated sounds that your mind incorporates into the densely layered aural blanket that is shrouding you here. In just over half an hour, Wooden Indian, who on this recording are Wally Boudway, Ross Andrews, Patrick Rowland and David Moroney, create for you a magical kingdom of sound—a world unto their own to which you are invited to invest your soul. Heavy handed words I suppose, but if you have listened to Color Is Work or witnessed their live shows, you will know this is no hyperbole; the band seems to invoke spirits in which to surround itself, old ghosts to ruminate with and create an atmosphere of psychic intoxication. They may well have created their own genre of music, which I like to refer to as “paranormal indie rockspressionism.” That’s just me, but that’s what it feels like—it’s art that literally haunts me.
If you listen to the mere chords and tones that start “Gas Station Glow,” the album opener, the feeling is both ominous and hypnotic, so much so that there is indeed a palpable “Ghost in your joy.” The song itself create darkness out of curious shapes, and here is an album served on a slightly psychedelic “fluorescent plate” from which you will nourish yourself mystically. “Color Is Work” borders, perhaps, more on impressionism than abstract expressionism and sounds more like a Monet than a Pollock to my ears—more mesmerizing with loops of sound growing near and far throughout your skull, like your eyes trying to focus on the lily ponds then losing it again in the myopic imagery—it turns out that is not color work, but it’s also some intoxicating stuff when presented through sound.
If for no other reason than the infinite percussion layers sprinkled liberally throughout “Harem In My Pocket”, this song has become one of my favorites. Additionally, I’m not sure the world has experienced lyrics this trippy since Syd Barrett was leading Pink Floyd: “I was dreamt in the dream of a profit machine. I’m a moveable feast. I’m the last, I’m the least… and I’m giving their bodies a shadow, And they’re giving my shadow a body. And the things I’ve seen will remember me, from time, from time to time.” Whoa is all I can say. If those aren’t words that can turn your soul inside out, I’m not sure what can reach you. “Expensive Fur” was the first song I heard by Wooden Indian before I saw them live, and I was instantly charmed as the song is a journey unto itself with shards of broken stained glass crashing around your mind, unsettled by settling, dreamy, near whispered vocals across an indie rock lullaby describing your own gentle nervous breakdown in methods or reinvention and infinite loss. It is a swirling flashback inducing affair that will seduce your spirit and reap a thin grin from the identification you can make with its content.
I’m not even sure what the lyrics “You always laugh, like a leper touches strangers” means, but I like it as the minimalist reduction that is “St. Jeffrey” begins, an ode that I can only assume is to a friend who is still a devout Grateful Dead fan who will fix your bicycle for “a little cocaine and a cigarette.” Someone who looks beyond their years, someone who has lived a rough existence out of avoiding a life of rough existence—these are people we know and this is an ode to them and the honor they deserve. “Finally Older” is the sound of Angels crying upon the frosting of a cupcake while those undeserving of such icing look upward like children staring at your finger when pointing to the moon. It is mesmerizing in its synthesis of calypso breezes and primal, tribal sounds—it drifts you to a geography, not previously visited on the album, one just as intoxicating as the rest but seemingly featuring just a little more rum.
The longest song on the album, “Fingers In The Palms”, has been one of my live favorites for some time and has blown my mind since the start. On the album this song is almost a skeleton of what it has become in the live setting, an entirely different crazed maelstrom of an animal, one which I gladly lose myself within at every playing. Like an endless weekend between music geeks and 72 hour party people, “Our friends were there, all tangles in the knots of each other’s hair. Our friends were there. Our friends were there. But when we woke, the words we spoke denied all of the lives, all of the lives we’ve lived” is perfect wisdom an observation for that Sunday morning moment of a collective that found themselves greeting an imperfect dawn in various stages of unsobriety.
“Heart Wilder-Beat” is the final number on the record and another indie rock lullaby designed around the feeling of closing this three dimensional album with something of a perfect note to drift you off to the next adventure, life, imagining, work, or what have you. It seals the album in the way it was opened, textured rhythms, haunting vocals, percussion effects that will twist both your ear and mind. When it closes, the only thing you can reckon is that you’ve been somewhere fantastic and great and the hour you think you just spent with Wooden Indian was only half that time—but that is because due to their seemingly shamanic supernatural influence, they actually DO bend space and time. Don’t believe me? Check out the live set or listen to the album below and let it blow your mind.
If you want to catch them live and at their best, you may want to check out Lost Leaf on Thursdays, because though their technical “residency” has ended, the calendar for Lost Leaf indicates they’ll still be playing their every Thursday this month. If you prefer a bigger, badder show with lots of space you may want to get to Crescent Ballroom this Friday where they open up for the likes of Cold War Kids, Mergence and many others. Their lineup is now enhanced by Tony Patino (Tony Squid, Me Vale Madre), James Hanna and the Thunder Choir, as their numbers increase the magical kingdom of sound they create simply becomes more inviting.