Wooden Wand: The Luck Of The Damned

James Jackson Toth of Wooden Wand

Wooden Wand's "Sleepwalking After Midnight" is a waltz-time beauty with a pianola's lilting menace. courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of the artist

Thursday's Pick

Song: "Sleepwalking After Midnight"

Artist: Wooden Wand

CD: Death Seat

Genre: Folk

At 32, the talented and prolific James Jackson Toth is already the veteran of a thousand music-business indignities, running the cursed gamut through bad record deals, nightmare tours, personal tumult, management woes and financial anxiety. There's something positively morbid about the misadventures of a songwriter as gifted as Toth — one so highly and widely esteemed that he's released his records on a raft of influential labels, ranging from Kill Rock Stars to Thurston Moore's imprint Ecstatic Peace. Through it all, Toth has kept getting better as a writer, with brilliant, noirish lyrics that are frequently shot through with hilarious gallows humor at his own expense.

Having changed labels yet again ­— Toth's new album, Death Seat, is being released by heavyweight tastemaker Michal Gira's Young God imprint ­— he's made his saddest, funniest, most poignant collection of songs yet. Bedeviled by the luck of the damned, Toth (who records under many pseudonyms, but this time as Wooden Wand) keeps raising the stakes of his artistry ever higher.

In "Sleepwalking After Midnight," a waltz-time beauty with a pianola's lilting menace, Toth delivers us into the titular world of the sleepwalker —­ a murky purgatory between unconsciousness and consciousness where the rational self has no control over his or her actions and no capacity to remember what happened. "This is a sleepwalker town," he sings. "Everybody is stumbling around / by the light of a watercolor sun / No one will recall what they've done." It's all funny, frightening and vintage Toth: a small world of night wanderers who commit acts ranging from the pedestrian to the lurid to the possibly violent. These sleepwalkers seem driven to explore their own moral perimeters­ by the spirit of their own unconscious minds — and by the need to satisfy unconscious desires.

Lesser writers might preach or castigate, but that's neither Toth's style nor his agenda. He just wryly reports as his half-conscious cohorts go about their way, carrying on and living the dream.



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