The first few Wand albums are all woven out of a maniac forward momentum. Driving rhythms, thrashing guitars and math rock precision. But Cory Hanson’s debut solo in 2016 The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo effort signalled a lusher approach. This album appeared like a string-drenched fantasy of The Beatles or early Tyrannosaurus Rex in a recording studio epiphany. Likewise, Wand’s Plum, released the following year, delighted in beautifully constructed sounds and group reconfigurations, thrown into all kinds of different settings.
Somewhere in the process of making these records, the details, production and confidence to create different atmospheres was Hanson’s lightbulb moment. The process had a creative undercurrent like being plugged into a fresh set of Eno’s Oblique Strategies’ cards. Even the often overlooked importance of track sequences meant you could move from dense orchestral rock, to crunching lo-fi and then ambient balladry in a short few moments.
Hanson’s new solo album Pale Horse Rider, as the title immediately frames, is a meditation on the sounds and symbols of country music. This is no tobacco chomping pastiche either, more like the peculiarity of heatstroke and peyote blended into sumptuous rich threads. Recorded in a studio surrounded by huge cacti and an endless blue sky, lap steel, guitar, voices, the album drones and blossoms like a dusty horizon.
The opening track Paper Fog, framed by the wonderfully demented desert Santa / flayed Hanson video, a widescreen ballad slowly expanding into rippling lysergic guitar eruptions. The track disappears to almost nothing at points, exposing a hanging ambient underwiring, but this woozy opener quickly becomes addictively spectacular.
Amazingly, Angeles reconfigures these gentle threads into another beautiful tumbling groove. The galloping drumming splattered in gently fragmenting electronics, as the whole thing surges into hymnal peaks.
Somehow after the gently twisted openers the title track initially feels a little conventional as it opens up. But its soup of strings and voices eventually gather around wavering central drone as the whole thing melts into itself. Necklace is little more than a static block of sound in space. The mood is initially dark on Bird Of Paradise but it eventually expands out into a vast canvas of twinkling night sky. The campfire shuffling of Limited Hangout bobs along before a ghostly choir eventually seeps out of the darkness in a way that’s achingly gorgeous.
The brief Vegas Knights feels like another shiny curveball, too normal somehow but shows that, as the album moves forward, each new track wrong foots what you might expect. Likewise, the expanding droning smudge of Surface To Air is little more than an intermission for the 8 minute peak of the album. Another Story From The Center Of The Earth builds slowly into ragged edges and expanding shadows. But instead of burning into a fire ball, eventually the floor falls away as we hang in a web of static, like the players are rendered little more than obliterated outlines in a dust storm. Whatever the song describes is stunning, the album plotting a strange ability to be understated but still devastating. The closer only re-enforces this staggering quality, Pigs rolls along wonderfully before culminating in a string encrusted finale.
Certainly, some imaginary line, from weird into normal, might be breached at some points but what we have left is a beautiful hallucinatory suite that feels incredibly welcoming and innovative. It’s an undeniable fact that everything we listen to these days is through a filter of a world full of problems. Pale Horse Rider however, is one of those albums that you can’t help but be seduced by, and has slipped effortlessly into that pile of music that’s always close to hand.
Whilst it’s early days, Hanson’s newest collection is showing all the characteristics of a slow burning classic…