Wreaths are a band long celebrated in the closed door, secret fellowship of the Asbury domain. Circling the legend and lore of all things cultish, this is a band that has been the darlings of college music columnists and gaggles and gaggles of hipster debutants since their 2011 debut on the local Jersey circuit.
Founded somewhere in the 2007 neighborhoods of Chicago, Illinois, Wreaths took earthly-minded shape through the perceptions of guitarist/vocalists Shaun Towey and Ralph Nicastro. Mixing the stylistic methods of psycho-jamming and groove-fed 1970s trip continuum, Wreaths carry their flag of scene supremacy high in the sky as they charge onto the impressionable realms of musical America.
The originating members have been quoted as saying that the group was formed in an effort to “cure boredom” and as a way to express budding creativity that would later become the extensive wreath-like vibrations we hear today. Even the name arrived as simply reading it off of a sign from a place that sold Christmas trees and, well, Christmas wreaths.
Wreaths are currently out in support of their eponymous debut on Killing Horse Records. The Kearny-based Killing Horse boasts over a dozen acts varying from indie to hard rock and has recently marked their four-year birthday as a successful label.
The band blends the darkened grandeur of groups such as Joy Division with the angst and blistering defiance of Nirvana and old Smithereens, easily communicating that same attitude with their insurrectionary image. A band known to buck the system, Wreaths pull no punches when asserting their view on music scene discord that most keep their jaws locked about, and that got my attention.
Perhaps the name Wreaths has deeper meaning than just a sign on a post. Perhaps it’s a metaphor of how they react in the universe. Circling ideas wrapped in complex and tangled brambles of thought and purpose to create their eclectic blend of sonically layered replication. Too difficult to simply walk through, it requires work to understand their natural order of things. As you listen and analyze, you’ll come to recognize that this is a band that not only uses risk-taking character to build a framework, but also succeeds in constructing multifarious thought observations without descending into compositional areas of standard use.
The disc grinds out of the speakers with the industrial grunge flow of “Coke Straw.” “Coke Straw” harkens one back to the early ’90s and bands like Pavement as Wreaths splatter dynamic, sustained guitar grit across the aural soundscape. Vocals are succinctly toned and lyrically economic as the group dirge marches into torrents of staccato-charged tremolo. Electrics clash into each other like stormy cores of flying shrapnel. Squelching, feedbacked middle-eight six-strings and keys push the group into their echo-drenched resolution.
While the band clocks in some extraordinary numbers for song sequence times, the biggest and the boldest has to be “Goin’ Back To Haiti.” At over 13 minutes, it is by far the longest song on the disc. Once again the group rolls the dice and hits five out of seven with their stoic brand of tranced-out scorage. When the vocals come in around 2:58, Wreaths are well along to their build, immersed in echo and massive plate reverbs that give it enough ethereal presence to make Ben Bridwell sit up and take note. While 13 minutes is too long for my fondness, the band has created a status off of never-ending passages such as this, and their fans will eat it up.
I also enjoyed the eccentricity of the song “Ruby.” Swirling with synthesized subtleties, “Ruby” uses guitar dynamics to break up the song subdivisions and showcase clarity. The incorporation of icicle-clean solid bodies and the ping of dirty, tube-stoked power chords balance like a man on a tightrope. Once again, bass and drums pump alongside hypnotic Ian Curtis vocals with the precision of 1980s midi. Think Daniele Luppi played through Marshall Amps and you would be in the general vicinity.
“Piedmont Aire” is probably my favorite song from the band. Detuned synthesizers dance like fireflies, veering deftly between reverberated electrics and acoustic strums. Vocals stay easy, melodic and alive as the group chirps frequencies across their cosmos of harmony. When the whole band joins for the following verse-toned change, the song is hoisted up into a completely contrasting and uncanny focus. Nicastro and Towey have a compelling harmony order worked out and they rise effortlessly through the core of the musical mêlée to make it happen.
“Adult Life” is another great bet for the disc. If you’re into the experimental warmness of bands like Guided By Voices, you’re going to love this sonic barrage. Recorded without technical fanfare (you can hear talking, movement, clicks and ticks from the studio), “Adult Life” is a thumbnail sketch of fast-flowing creativity without over-thinking or the homogenization of art. At just a little over two minutes, it’s also one of the shortest songs on the disc and one of the most significant when it comes to producing something to say.
“Leaves On The Leaves On The Ground” tom toms into darkly echoed guitars before parched snare punches and great patterns of synth sorcery zoom in and sharpen over the center like some flying, domesticated monster. Wreaths utilize the perceptivity of the actual production here. Passages promenade, rotating back to take their positions in the action of the choreography over and over again. Pinpointed time rhythms keep this action moving from one saga into the next like a novel loaded with rich illustrations that are better with each and every turn of page. I especially like the focus of change in the back half at around 3:47 when the guitar’s sonar echo harmonic resonances beam and the keyboards surge elaborate walls of lush and dissonant voice.
The disc concludes with “I Love Me, Dark Wizard.” If you’re looking for gnarly, blues-based rock and roll psychedelia, this is the one for thou. Hall-like harmonies sail over lonesome feedback drones, ricocheting synth pads and a whole lot of analog-fueled fuzz. Organic cacophony blows into the choruses before bleaching out and diving into one of the longest sustained guitar/keyboard notes on the planet. If you’re searching to immerse yourself in the lowest of lo-fi, get your swimsuit ready since this is the one that draws you in. Ralph and Shaun tear out siren-loud double note bends that rip over Curtis Mayfield funked-out rhythm lines like deep water flowing over rock-infested riverbeds
The band has been compared to the space rock sounds of Hawkwind and, a term that I hate, the “shoegazing” of bands such as My Bloody Valentine. To be fair, I see a little of both of those specifications on Wreaths. The disc is both compositionally insightful and self-indulgent when it comes to writing and length. With several songs well over the five-minute range, this is a project that is personal in nature and an unapologetic declaration aimed at slick, commercial fools that poison the water wells of the music industry.
Recorded in over five different studios, Wreaths not only passes the continuity test with flair and flying colors, but it leaves a lasting impact on anyone looking for music that is way out of the humdrum realm of the boring pop-rock world.
The band includes guitarist/vocalist Ralph Nicastro, guitarist/vocalist Shaun Towey, organist/guitarist Jamison Lauer, bassist Kevin Beeg, and drummer Colin Carhart.
For more information on the band and their latest record, head over to killinghorserecords.com/wreaths.