Wombo creates an eerie fantasy world in which familiar fables get flipped on their head on their latest record, Fairy Rust.
The follow-up to 2020’s Blossomlookdownuponus, the Louisville band’s sophomore album pivots in a darker direction, one that feels like a fairytale written on a not-so-great acid trip. Their psych-rock draws inspiration from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen stories that bassist/vocalist/songwriter Sydney Chadwick grew up on, as well as her interest in mythology. “We are trying to speak on something called sacred darkness in mythology. It means that darkness is not always a negative and is a necessary part of the equal balance between light and dark, and sometimes it can signify renewal and the birth of creativity,” Chadwick explains in press materials.
This juxtaposition between light and dark, what is seen and unseen, and the space in between gives the record a certain mystical quality, reinforced by the band’s sprite-like arrangements, which move fast, yet stay shifty. From the esoteric references to tarot cards on “7 of Cups” and the time distortion that takes place on “RVW” (an abbreviation of Rip Van Winkle), make-believe and reality are interwoven so seamlessly, it’s almost impossible to figure out where one ends and the other begins.
This lurking feeling of uncertainty, whether it’s about the nonlinear way time appears to pass or the simple question of “What is real life?,” is laced throughout the album; the band creates an intoxicating haze through sullen percussion and spiraling guitars. Even Chadwick begins to second-guess her grip on reality and reckon with the subjective truth that arises from memory on tracks like ”Headstand,” when she trills, “I am slipping through while grabbing for my memories.” Far from frantic, she seems more interested in studying the rabbit hole than trying to escape it. There’s no fear of things getting blurry on “7 of Cups,” as she admits, “There are things I think of / Never can remember what they were / Did I go where I lived? / In 10 years will I be able to tell it straight?”
Instead of sounding the alarm, Wombo embraces their ambiguity-spinning, mesmerizing musings on the enigmatic moments in life. “Endings are always beyond my level of understanding or comprehending, or knowing at all. I wanted to end the album with that kind of message, that the mysteries in life are not to be solved but experienced and respected, to be kept at a distance,” Chadwick says.
As Chadwick concludes the record with the ominous line, “Everything looms just beyond my view,” something is forbidding, yet intriguing about the secrets the future holds and the past disguises. However, there are some things that Wombo don’t care to be cryptic about or try to conceal. Like all fractured fairy tales, there are always some Cinderella seconds when the magic begins to wear thin, and the carriage starts to turn back into a pumpkin—when reality forces its way back in. Whether it’s the angular bassline on “Queens of Keesh” or the twinkling riff on “It Melted,” there are moments across the record where suddenly things snap into focus—like when you’re lucid dreaming and wake up sweat drenched and having to reassure yourself that you’re really awake.
Over 12 twisting tracks, there are glimmers of light offset by enchanting darkness that create a deft push-and-pull. This is best embodied on the title track, where serpentine guitars wind around a thudding bassline as Chadwick’s lofty vocals linger over lyrics about the city and rivers she grew up around, yet there’s a certain distance between herself and the places she claims to be most familiar with. With an out-of-body quality, the song seems to come from a strange, unreachable realm, in which things are just veiled enough for you to catch a few glimpses of the other side, but still hold a certain obscured allure.
In the world of Wombo, where time is ever-looping and gravity is replaced by Chadwick’s siren song, they manage to make even the unknown seem beguiling. Even the hazy lure of their instrumentation feels like something you can’t quite make out, the parts meshing and melting into one another with no Ariadne’s string to guide you through the labyrinth of sound. Whether that’s from a pinch of pixie dust or some other sort of arcane sorcery, Fairy Rust casts an unbreakable spell.
Samantha Sullivan is a Paste Music intern and writer based in Philadelphia. She can be reached on Instagram @fangirlpurgatory.