❉ Deconstruction time with an appealing psychedelic, stoned vibe from Wooden Wand’s James Toth.
Dunza is the musician James Jackson Toth, probably best known to fans by his other moniker, Wooden Wand, under which banner he created some of the best music of the past decade or so. Difficult to pin down to a single genre, Toth’s unwillingness to be pigeon-holed has led to him releasing albums ranging from clever and witty folk-rock to wildly experimental free jazz, but in every iteration his ear for a melody and almost Dylan-esque ability to conjure up complex stories with just a few lines of lyric has set him above other artists in the New Weird America movement to which he’s most often linked.
Nowadays, he’s semi (possibly completely) retired the Wooden Wand brand, though anyone with an interest in American music is recommended to pick up Blood Oaths of the New Blues or Clipper Ship, two of his final albums under that banner, either of which should have, in a sane world, made him a household name. Instead, he’s now primarily playing as part of the excellent One Eleven Heavy, a transatlantic rock group comprised of Toth, Nick Mitchell Maiato, one-time Royal Trux bassist Dan Brown and drummer Ryan Jewell, and was – before lockdown buggered everything up – about to go into the studio to record their third album.
Which is where Star Circle comes in. With no possibility of recording for a band locked down on opposite sides of the ocean, and no chance of touring any time soon, Toth found himself, in his own words, looking for ‘a means of not going berserk’. It’s to all our benefits that he found a solution to his problem in taking four traditional guitar songs he’d written and recorded, tearing them apart, and rebuilding them as deconstructed versions of themselves.
It’s not a completely radical departure for Toth – going all the way back to the early 2000s, check out some of the tracks from that period released by him on Bandcamp last year as Base Camp under the umbrella title Summit for somewhat similarly fragmented soundscapes – but unlike that two decade old work (or his other more experimental work, for that matter), there’s a real psychedelic, stoned vibe to these which makes them particularly appealing.
Disowned is the outlier here, but it’s none the worse for that and makes a very strong start to the set. It starts slow and mellow, almost stately, a languid mix of keyboard and occasional guitar, before a treated voice asks ‘why have been so estranged?’. The difference between this and the other three songs on the EP is that you can make out the shape of the original song for this one, especially when the musical backing breaks off and Toth sings the vocal acapella, culminating with the question
if it’s true I feel like family / why do I feel so disowned?
The other three tracks are less recognisably Wooden Wand songs, their deconstruction pushing them firmly away from the singer songwriter area he normally inhabits – but that’s not to say they’re in any sense weaker than the opener. Rather than a song which has been split into a handful of distinct parts, the repetitive, hypnotic patterns on each track instead provide a canvas over which treated voices lay single words and broken fragments of lyrics. Xstatic Daze feels almost Kratwerk-ian in conception, while Harbor Lights and Another Life have a definite dubby, almost trip-hop, feel to them, which works beautifully with the guitar lines which wander in and out of the music and the short, soft vocal snippets.
All of which is lucky, as Toth deleted the originals after creating these deconstructions, meaning these gorgeous versions are the only ones we have.
Available as a download direct from his own Bandcamp page and on a limited edition cassette from Arizona-based tape label WasIstDas, grab a copy before Toth decides to delete these too!
❉ Dunza: ‘Star Client’ released 2 June 2022. Digital Album available for Streaming + Download via woodenwand.bandcamp.com Includes high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas