February 7, 2022

It’s an album for the broken-hearted; and if you’re not, then you may well be after listening to it.

Of The Wand & The Moon (or, strictly speaking :Of The Wand & The Moon: with two colons either side of that name) is very probably a band you’ve never heard of before. Neither had I a few weeks ago but this is a release full of remarkable music that grabbed my attention. Just listen to the wonderfully named title track. It is an astonishing piece, built around a soundscape of rare beauty, created using warm string tones (violin, viola and cello), with quiet shimmering synths, acoustic guitars, and gorgeous touches from a flugelhorn. There is no bass and no percussion. Over this fragile soundscape the vocals are almost spoken in a gravelly low register that immediately recalls the delivery of Leonard Cohen in his swansong albums. There’s also that effective Cohen trick of rounding out the vocals with delicate female harmonies in the background. The lyrics are as poetic as Cohen’s too, allowing many interpretations but there’s no doubt it is a bitter tale of loss and the song plunges us into a mood of melancholy with a capital ‘M’. It’s a classy song that Cohen would surely have been proud to have written himself.

You are probably wondering who the hell are Of The Wand & The Moon? Well, the band is the brainchild of Danish guitarist Kim Larsen who after a period in Danish gothic/doom band Saturnus left in 1999 to start Of The Wand & The Moon and becoming quicky recognised as a star in the neofolk field. Neofolk is a bit of a niche – apparently a form of experimental music blending elements of folk and industrial music – which certainly sounds like an odd combination to me. Esoteric and pagan themes are common lyrical themes in this genre too. By 2011, Larsen had in any case edged away from the neofolk movement with the slightly more mainstream album The Lone Descent which was well received. A decade of silence followed until this release which still has some traces of neofolk but is mostly mainstream and accessible.

It should be clear from the title track that wallowing in despair is Larsen’s preferred mood. The music though does not remain with the dirge like atmosphere of the title track for its whole ten tracks and forty-five minutes. The one other song that does imitate that atmosphere Les Journées Sans Fin Et Les Nuits Solitaires. It’s another track with no bass or drums – just gentle synths and strings but the vocals this time are all-female consisting of Sarah Hepburn coming in at various points singing ‘love, my love, my love’ interspersed with Julie Jover’s emotionally charged spoken delivery of the lyrics in French telling of the long and certainly futile wait for a lover to return. Something about the French language seems to work so well in this sort of song (would ELP’s C’est La Vie be as impactful if Greg had just sang ‘That’s life’, I wonder?).

But it’s not all doom and gloom, musically at least. The excellent opener Whispers Of The Past bustles along in a pleasant rock style while the closing Barbs Of Time has an almost Phil Spector wall of sound, or it certainly seems that way after a lot of the sparse material on this album. The neatly commercial Nothing For Me Here is another track with a Cohen feel to it, and despite its upbeat nature, the tone of the lyrics doesn’t change as he sings wretchedly in the chorus ‘there’s nothing for me here, nothing but despair’. OK, Kim, let’s move on then. Twilight Halo is another highlight, built around a dark menacing chord sequence, made even more sinister by the repeated plea ‘Can you save me? Will you save me?’ finally being answered at the very end by a resigned ‘You didn’t save me’. Again there’s effective use of the Flugelhorn at the end just to emphasise the abject despair of the song!

Along with the title track, Let’s Take A Ride (My Love) is for me the highlight of the album. With another artist, you might expect some uplifting Born To Run type anthem to freedom with that title, but no, it’s another sad tale of a sad person with lines like ‘I’ve got nothing more to lose; as you know, the harder you struggle, the tighter the noose’. It’s another song with a magical atmosphere, this time largely due to the simple synth hook which runs hypnotically through the song (it’s played on the Omnichord, I believe), and the lovely work on trumpet from Bo Rande, who contributes both trumpet and flugelhorn elsewhere too.

OK, you’ve probably worked out by now that this is not an album to put on when hosting a party or while lazing on a summer beach. For sure, it would work best with a cup of coffee in your hands as you look out of your window at the rain or snow on a miserable winter’s day. It’s an album for the broken-hearted; and if you’re not, then you may well be after listening to it.