I will remember 2010, in addition to many things, as the year I embraced the international. And I don’t just mean that I’ve been listening to more bands from other countries than ever before (which I have). But basically, nationalism in music is officially a joke… at least from my narrowed American perspective. Berlin’s Wooden Veil is yet another band seemed poised to break down social and cultural barriers even further than they already are, looking at the walls between countries and eradicating them with violent abandon. They show that music can, and should, transcend its geography for a new environment of shared experience and adventure with its listeners. Or—and this might be more probable—but Wooden Veil is nationalistic… it’s just that they come from a ghost country that exists only in some alternate dimension. The language there is different. Scales and rhythms feel unique to its people, yet also classic and traditional. Sure, they wield their drones and chants from so many of the tools we all already know—strings, drums (lots of drums), percussion, voice, banjo, glockenspiel… but these pieces are orchestrated in a way that makes little sense to those in the know about where these nooks and crannies usually fit into the puzzle. I’m hesitant to go as far as “alien,” however. The idioms translated also seem human and spiritual in the most naturalistic of senses to our species.
Wooden Veil embraces the concept of the drone better than most, right off the bat with opener “Red Sky” that sets up a fire dance as the back drop for its haunting melodies. And this undercurrent of hypnotism continues throughout the album, from the more song-oriented pieces to the rhythmless, improvisational numbers like “Gravity Problems” or the stirring moans of “Gloom Across the Ice.” No matter what form these songs take, the band seems poised to enter itself as a communal tribe—”Temple of Doom”-style hedonism, foreign chants that feel liturgical and collectively channeled, all underpinned and bound with chiming bells and clanging metallics, made emotive by the bands’ succumbing to the natural elements: earth, fire, wind and water.
The results of Wooden Veil’s unique patchwork of instruments is much greater and interesting than the sum of its parts, though. Beyond how how cool of an ethnographic study this could potentially be, these songs are simply amazing, wholly engaging and trance-enducing; creepy ragas presented in an uncommonly aggressive way. Drums are absolutely pummeled in spots, large blocks of crushing boulders and ice, slammed into the resonation chamber of a cave where these songs were conceived with a terrifying force. There’s ballads here too; “Moon and Hamburg” weaves the gentlest of melodies atop a ballet of synthesizers from this vocalist’s calming coos (I won’t even try to figure out which member provides these meek, high pitched tones, not unlike Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki). The song cuddles up to the listener like the babbling of some lost child being rocked to sleep by a stranger; there’s comfort in not having any clue what she’s saying.
According to the pictures peppering the band’s myspace, the album art, and the weird and awesome video of the album’s release in 2009 embedded below, Wooden Veil literally veils themselves, cloaking their identities and ethnicities with face paint or cloth. They become a culture that’s outside the status quo, a nomadic tribe of musicians that challenges listeners to unlearn what they know about common instrumental and theoretical practices in music. These elements mean something new to a new group of people, and it’s important we embrace bands like Wooden Veil and others working in similar terrain like Israel’s Staraya Derevnya. With these bands (and hopefully more like them in the impending months), I come out knowing less than I did going in, reducing my experiences, reversing my musical timeline into an era of complete discovery and innovation. I want to live where these guys live… which is everywhere and nowhere. Maybe we all live there anyway, we just never saw it before.