Another year, another great Woods album. What a delightful thing it is to be able to write that sentence. Without doing my journalistic due diligence I’ll venture that this is the sixth year in a row that Woods has delivered a full length album worthy of my attention. The Brooklyn-founded psychedelic folk group continue to meld charming pop hooks into guitar-based soundscapes that alternately jangle into spacey oblivion or stand firmly rooted in the time honored tradition of folk balladry.
If there’s a catch to this group it’s guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Earl’s earnest falsetto vocals. For some, perhaps, that could be a deal breaker. For my part, I love his singing. It just works beautifully with the songs and the instrumentation, driven by Jarvis Taveniere (guitars & more) and bassist Kevin Morby is, perhaps better crafted on this release than any prior. Tape-effects wizard G. Lucas Crane seems to have a diminished roll on this more polished release but this time the songs are pushed further to the front.
Those who have listened to their earlier records (and I do mean records as they release everything on vinyl through their own label, Woodsist) might be concerned that they have stepped away from the extended kraut-esque cuts as found on Sun And Shade. Fear not! Though a bit shorter, the title track contains a stunning distillation of the snarling live beast that floored me at last year’s Richmond show. In less than half the time of a live version they capture the tension, give a dose of the jamming, and deliver the striking lyrics. “Bend Beyond” itself is a stunner but to follow it with the first single, “Cali In A Cup”, whose sun bleached wistfulness makes me long for a Summer that I never had, is as strong a 1-2 punch opener as I’ve heard in a while.
The rest of the record rolls on like this; with the brutally direct “Is It Honest?” (Which caught me off guard on my first spin because the kids were in the room when Earl dropped the F-bomb in the refrain… But I don’t censor music for language too often in my house so I let it spin) followed by the emotional “It Ain’t Easy”. It seems as if the clarity and development of the songs is a deliberate effort to allow them to speak for themselves without the washes of distortion distracting from the point at hand.
Not that the weird doesn’t rise to the top at times. The short but delirious “Cascade” is a garage-surf dynamo with distortion and trippy effects to spare. “Lily” may be the perfect blend of all things Woods. Tape loops, pop melody, charming lyrics, guitar jangle, and hand claps! If that doesn’t have it all, keep listening as “Size Meets The Sound” surely gets there.
And then theres the song “Impossible Sky”. I’m not entirely sure what it’s about, but the check out these lyrics:
without looking up I can see the most impossible skies awake
It’s not our time
It’s horrible, I’m
It’s horrible I’m awake
Those words strike me with the resonance of depression induced reluctance to live. Or maybe it’s just insomnia. Either way this isn’t all sunshine and daisies. These guys breath light and darkness into their music.
My usual song-song breakdown can’t do Bend Beyond the justice it deserves. Suffice to say that I’ve left out some very good bits that you must go discover for yourself. This record highlights some changes that I interpret as growth yet it still has everything I’ve come to love from Woods. Once again, Woods has delivered the goods. Don’t miss out.