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Head of Wantastiquet – Dead Seas

Head of Wantastiquet is the solo alias and successful droning psych folk outfit of Paul LaBrecque, an American songwriter whom now finds his home in Belgium.  Though Head of Wantastiquet is by all means LaBrecque’s primary focus and the vehicle through which his most unique visions have manifest in an aural fashion, he has also been known to take part in several other notable projects, the most celebrated and prolific of which is Sunburned Hand of the Man, a Massachusetts-based project with a revolving-door lineup whom were born out of the ashes of psych punk trio Shit Spangled Banner.  However, LaBrecque’s true roots seem to lie in the project Astral Blessing, a creative entity where LaBrecque was able to fully express his love of drenching his guitar in delay and creating surreal folk atmospheres.  Though this project had a very short career that spanned only three years and an equal number of releases (the most important of which being a self-titled LP on the slow-to-release label Mad Monk), it certainly set the stage for what was to become Head of Wantastiquet in the future.  These years were also marked by his improvisational experimentations in the little-known Aethr Myth’d.

LaBrecque wastes no time setting the stage for the rest of the album, utilizing melancholic, murky drones and light melodic banjo plucking and harmonica tones in “Return to Agharti” to create a world of folk-laden ebony that is deserving of the name of the subterranean city that resides in world-wide folklore.  “Arrows into the Head of the Serpent” is less droning but more ethereal and groove-oriented, existing in a defiant sound that is deeply rooted in American folk and bluegrass.  “All High Souls” follows in the same footpath but with a louder, distorted approach with a very light percussive edge.  “A Curse Repeated” is where things get interesting, leaving behind the drones and the expressively processed guitar sounds in favor of a more traditional folk track that contains low-end, barely audible yet harmonious and emotive vocals that herald memories of the recent Galician neofolk project Sangre de Muerdago and further incorporates a subtle air of spiritual fascination.  This style of traditional song isn’t repeated until “Victorious Eyes”, and until then gentle melodies and drones will reappear in similar fashion to the opening three, creating various meditative atmospheres that envision the vast landscapes of the Appalachian lands of the Eastern United States, both North and South in respective moments throughout the album.

“Dead Seas” was mastered by Fear Falls Burning mastermind Dirk Serries, and as such you should not be surprised by the intense amount of tidal drones and reverb-laden atmosphere that create the overall mood in Dead Seas, though LaBrecque’s previously mentioned love of delay would almost assuredly play a large role in the mix of the album with or without Serries’ intervention.  Head of Wantastiquet seems to be a variable melting pot of wonderful qualities from some of the biggest names in modern American dark folk music, from the tenebrous nature and quasi-spiritual tones of 16 Horsepower to the sombre Southern indie folk beauty of “The Courage of Others” era Midlake.  From the strange and often vague Appalachian musings of Bonnie “Prince” Billy to the headstrong banjo and guitar instrumentation of Stone Breath as well as the psych / droning elements of Six Organs of Admittance.  Needless to say, this is a project that could easily fit in labels from Drag City to Important Records, and one that has in fact, considering the latter label mentioned, played live with the likes of James Blackshaw and Jozef van Wissem.

Despite these dark comparisons, Brussels-born artist Michael van den Abeele had some choice words regarding this album that describe the work as slowing down time to the point that it stops, allowing you to notice the beauty and warmth of the world around you.  It speaks of the need to escape the illusion of time and those boundaries that we’ve built around ourselves in the modern era because of it.  It speaks of the natural world, it speaks of life and death, and yes, all of these qualities are present in the music too.  The music of Head of Wantastiquet is complex in every way, from instrumentation and processing to the very foundation that the project is formed from in thought, expression, emotion and philosophy.  Though the composition of the tracks can get slightly repetitive, it remains a remarkable effort that, since its release two years ago, has remained one of the unspoken hidden gems of American folk music today.

Track List:

01) Return to Agharti
02) Arrows into the Head of the Serpent
03) All High Souls
04) A Curse Repeated
05) Shakedown No. 6
06) Mavi Marmara
07) Dead Seas
08) Goodbye Biloxi
09) On Earth as it is in Heaven
10) Victorious Eyes
11) 11:11

Rating: 4.75/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Conspiracy Records (Belgium) / CORE095 / LP + Digi-CD
Psych Folk / Drone