Karen Zanes’ In The Court of Wands is without a doubt one of the most soothing and cathartic listens you are likely to find within the world of contemporary acid folk music.
From ethereal, acoustic studies of conflicted love, vulnerability and evolving emotional processes, to astral wanderings that are roughened by electric grit and hazy psychedelia, the Cambridge dwelling Zanes invites the listener into a magical yet intimate world.
Gentle picking, reverb-kissed Linda Perhacs–meets–Vashti Bunyan like singing and dreamy, pulsing electric guitars intertwine through every song here. The resulting sound easily conjures up images like light summer breezes rustling through hanging bleeding hearts or stalks of lavender in Hebridean hills, which is absolutely perfect considering how much nature is represented in the record’s lyrics. Zanes’ unbelievably calming, breathy vocals make reference to nesting birds, fields of wildflowers and tall grass and lady slippers.
Yet, do not let the ornate floral language fool you, as many of the songs here utilizes the natural world (and also worlds of myths and legends) to paint scenes of unease and internal struggle.
For instance, on the very Pearls Before Swine-like “Spring Won’t Wait,” Zanes speaks of the season bursting with life and nature that “will renew with crocuses and daffodils,” and take away her “blanket of winter.” Instead of this being a positive sign of resurrection or rebirth, the artist feels as though she is not ready to leave the obscuring safety of her layers of snow and ice. She is not prepared to bare herself, her skin, to the advancing warmth of the world around her. This is a strikingly personal song that only hits you harder the more you listen to it.
It is worth noting that “Spring Won’t Wait” segues perfectly into the album’s lone instrumental, “Loop in D,” an atmospheric and meditative piece that blends lightly throbbing waves of echoing electric and backwards guitars. The track feels as though the album is taking a breather to process the potent words of the previous track.
All across this mighty yet beautifully delicate album, Zanes proves herself to be a master at crafting deeply resonating lyrics, tender melodies and entire oceans of mood and tone. If you ever fear that your heart will go cold or close itself off, a surefire way of preventing this would be to let both this artist and this album inside it first.