Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Woodsist
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Folk
The fact that Woods has released seven albums in the last seven years isn’t the most remarkable thing about the Brooklyn folk band’s recording output. What stands out beyond the steady delivery of their music is the consistent quality that has characterized their songs, reaching a high enough peak to garner national attention by 2009’s Songs of Shame but leveling off to the point where fans could take them for granted and non-fans could find the group easy to ignore. On their newest offering, Bend Beyond, songwriter Jeremy Earl offers what could be a summation of Woods’ career thus far, singing “ain’t it hard to say that it ain’t easy, looking for different ways to make things stay the same.
In the world of Woods, minor refinements mean a lot. Bend Beyond is the Brooklyn band's seventh album in seven years, and in broad terms it isn't all that different from Woods' other records. The group's reference points remain the same: 1960s sunshine pop, the Grateful Dead's improvisational explorations, and 90s lo-fi. The most immediately distinctive attribute of Woods' music-- and its most decisive point of demarcation-- is singer Jeremy Earl's childlike falsetto; if you can't appreciate Earl's voice, Woods' rapidly growing discography (which is also rounded out by various EPs and singles) will be a non-starter.
WOODS play the Garrison on October 2. See listing. Rating: NNNN Woods are known for putting every idea to tape, quickly and cheaply. (It helps that they own their own label.) But on Bend Beyond, their seventh album in just six years, the Brooklyn psych-folk weirdos have taken their time, fleshing out both the arrangements and production.
Sun and Shade saw Woods experiment with everything from electrified kraut-rock to wispy 1970s-style folk songs. But while I did enjoy aspects of that effort, it seemed to fall victim to its own tenuous ambitions. Long distorted epics like Out of the Eye and Hallogallo clashed against softer-spoken tunes like Wouldn’t Waste and Be All Be Easy in a mesh of utter incoherence.
Even with their fuzzy textures and tape experiments, Brooklyn noise folk group Woods have always made sounds that seemed more suited to the sunny settings of the West Coast than the overcrowded buildings and busy surroundings of their urban hometown. With Bend Beyond, the fifth proper full-length from a ridiculously prolific band, Woods' songs feels more drenched in sunshine and ocean spray than ever, and coincidentally more polished and confident than their ramshackle lo-fi earlier albums. In fairness, Woods founder and principal songwriter Jeremy Earl left Brooklyn for a more peaceful home in upstate New York, where he and the rest of the band put the album together.
At the core of Woods’ spook-folk combustion engine have always been two vital ingredients: the fuel—Jeremy Earl’s songwriting—as oxidized by Jarvis Taveniere’s production. The Brooklyn band’s sixth album (and follow-up to last year's Sun & Shade) showcases the synergy of these two elements at full bore. Over time, it seems that the aura of Earl’s tunes have taken an optimistic turn, stretching skyward.
WoodsBend Beyond[Woodsist; 2012]By FM Stringer; September 27, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIn the first shots of the music video for Bend Beyond’s “Cali in a Cup,” a gemstone kaleidoscopes rays of light onto a hand and into the camera’s lens as the band delivers an opening image: “Sundays, as leaves fall on the snow,” all while walled in by a row of surfboards. Harmony, and perhaps more importantly, its pursuit, through and in the face of disparity, as a theme ricochets disarmingly in the belly of the album’s emotional vision. What does a kaleidoscope do if it doesn’t manipulate light against its negative and pattern it in a display of reflections? Appropriately, the single is evidence of the album’s thematic whole, but its sunny, weekend strums and harmonica flares, paired with a surprising lyrical gravity, is just one occasion on a collection of warping folk-rock tracks that snarl, hammer, chime, and sometimes fly.
When light refracts, a change occurs due to the bending of light rays emanating as they pass through the atmosphere. With this in mind, Brooklyn’s Woods take the notion of refraction literally with their latest Bend Beyond, knowing that homegrown folk songs have this particular way of moving you. While still dabbling in the same licks and harmonious riffs as their previous releases, Bend Beyond deviates quite a bit from the band’s last LP Sun and Shade, which saw the band more deeply rooted in folk and Americana.
Underneath the sun-dappled guitar reels, bleary falsetto, and lo-fi hum on Brooklyn trio Woods’ past records, a certain sadness would occasionally surface. Year after year, a new album would show up, replete with pitch-perfect AM pop hooks and crackling, sepia-toned acoustics. At first, the felicitous arrangements would overpower the senses, leading down the garden path to marvel at spring’s bounty.
Considering Woods’ tendency to lurch forward rather than “bend beyond” the stylistic strictures of their previous material, the Brooklyn folk rockers’ latest, Bend Beyond, plays out according to conservative expectations — albeit in particular ways. With its more recognizable melodic arrangement, weaved together by mutually incorrigible yet ever-present strands that thread through it, the album certainly fits into a teleology set specifically by 2010’s At Echo Lake, yet it also emphasizes the country rock-tinged brashness of 2011’s Sun and Shade. In imposing a logic of continuity, then, to Woods’ fast-growing catalogue, the new album fits comfortably into a latter period, effected by the break manifested way back in 2009’s Songs of Shame, the album that finally garnered the band its more than well-earned recognition, and initiated in earnest by its follow-up, where jerky, free-form pastiche decidedly gave way to complementary compositional structures and melody.
Atop a rolling, country-tinged jangly build, Jeremy Earl sings “It’s so fucking hard,” repeatedly on “Is It Honest”. “Can you relieve me?” he continues to ask. Separate Earl’s memorable falsetto from the kind of rolling, casual grace (Often reminiscent of War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel) of the track, and you’d be walking in fairly desperate territory.
There’s nothing new about a lo-fi band cleaning up their sound, and Brooklyn’s Woods return with a can of Mr Sheen firmly in hand. ‘Bend Beyond’ survives this shift away from the comfort of soft focus by virtue of its precise songcraft. Singer Jeremy Earl may conjure a distinctly indiefied falsetto, but his writing channels a host of celebrated songsmiths, from Dylan (‘It Ain’t Easy’) to Teenage Fanclub (‘Impossible Sky’) via The Doors and The Flaming Lips.
Woods have never been a love on first listen sort of band for me. My relationship with the Jeremy Earl-led ensemble has always been more of a curious friendship valued at impromptu times, rather than some full-blown, heart-quivering love affair that exploded at first listen. But that’s okay. Those kind of instantaneous, depth-charged affairs never last.
Another year, another Woods record. The Brooklyn, NY crew have been pumping them out at a pretty steady clip lately, with each new album more polished than the last ? "polished" being a relative term in this case. Like kindred spirit Sonny Smith did with his latest, Woods's fifth (not including myriad cassette and seven-inch releases) adopts a laidback country vibe that mixes with the group's lo-fi folk and indie tunes.