Release Date: Apr 8, 2016
Record label: Woodsist
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: Woods have almost certainly already won the 2016 award for Worst Album Title of the Year (WATY). I mean, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, what the hell is that? At best the band is fucking with us, making some satirical point that has flown over my head. At worst, South Park’s Family Guy manatees have done the work for them.
Humble consistency and commitment to craft have long been Woods' defining virtues, so the boldness of the band's ninth full-length, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, is an invigorating rush. Without entirely abandoning the psych-folk influences that have colored prior releases, City Sun Eater dives into the grittier side of '70s jazz fusion, the darkest corridors of dub, and funk's paranoiac underbelly. In contrast to the bucolic preceding works, it's an album that summons big city dread, the kind that steams up from beneath the streets and clings to teeming throngs of pedestrians.
Review Summary: There will always be a place for you, meet me on the other sideThere are many contradictory descriptors that could be used to accurately portray the sound of Brooklyn’s Woods. Ominous but welcoming is perhaps one of the most fitting ways to describe their blend of indie-folk and psychedelic rock; seductive yet restrained is another. Therein lies the appeal of the band’s music – it’s not too firmly grounded in a specific influence or idea to risk branching out, but when it does, it does so gracefully and with flair.
Over the years, fans of the band Woods have come to rely on some things. Their albums always sound great thanks to bassist Jarvis Taveniere's uncluttered but sneakily weird production. Their songs, as written by Jeremy Earl, are folk-rock gems with the occasional country-rock ballad and noisy, '70s-influenced, lengthy jam thrown in. Earl's voice is another constant, with his high-pitched twang resonating more deeply than it might seem to on first listen.
After eight albums of solid, if ever-more-predictable, psych-folk in about as many years, do Woods have anything new to offer? The band answers that question before anybody can ask it on City Sun Eater in the River of Light, which opens with the most surprising departure of their entire discography: “Sun City Creeps,” a detour into reggae and African jazz, complete with island horns, trebly guitars and the loose, first-take feel of an early Studio One session. It’s a knockout song, even before the pace quickens during its jammy payoff stretch, yet the group adopts these tropical sounds so naturally that it never feels like they’re showing off. You can count on one hand the number of American rock bands that could tastefully pull off this sort of stylistic gambit—Calexico; maybe My Morning Jacket.
Brooklyn-based Woods have been one of the more quietly consistent indie bands of the last decade, churning out album after album of sweet, jangly lo-fi inspired tunes with intelligent lyrics and joyous instrumentation even as their membership has fluctuated. City Sun Eater in the River of Light, the group’s staggering ninth record since 2006, continues the trend of 2014’s With Light and With Love in substituting the band’s trademark grainy sound for something with a bit sharper resolution. That may seem like a dig at Woods’ previous work, but it’s not, since the natural progression is so evident and pleasing.
Over the course of 10 years, Jeremy Earl and his psychedelic Americana band Woods have stayed patiently loyal to their North Star: a quality body of work, in the truest sense of the term. Not only has Earl managed to roughly uphold an LP-per-year pace without ever dropping a true dud, he’s done it while keeping it together as a piston of the Brooklyn indie rock community and leader of his sister project, the Woodsist record label. That’s not to mention, of course, the performance component; with such a deep bank of songs from which to curate setlists, Woods’ live shows should never fall short of well-rounded excellence.
Brooklyn psychedelic folk outfit Woods have made eight albums of dishevelled, tuneful Americana. Their ninth throws in an unexpected brass section, some pedal steel guitar and even reggae, while retaining the band’s core mellifluousness. It’s a minor masterstroke, making City Sun Eater… a quirky but eminently listenable record. Singer Jeremy Earl’s voice is a tremulous instrument, but his quaver suits the album’s reggae-tinged opener, Sun City Creeps, or its dubby kindred spirit, Can’t See at All.
With nine albums in ten years, Brooklyn’s Woods are nothing if not prolific. Anchored in low-key, folk-influenced rhythms focused around singer Jeremy Earl’s airy vocals, the band puts out quality work that projects thoughtful and measured reflection rather than a rushed and harried focus that their proclivity for output may suggest. Keeping a consistent tone, despite a somewhat revolving door of band members, has been one of Woods’ hallmarks.
Across a decade and eight LPs, Brooklyn fivepiece Woods have perfected a lo-fi folk prone to spastic jam breakdowns. Ninth offering City Sun Eater in the River of Light now shatters any preconceived notions. The opening title track sounds less like Woods and more in tune with Tropical Rain Forest, building horns and reggae elements rather than trademark axe work, a shift that continues through tracks such as "The Take." Even so, "I See in the Dark" notches near the top of the band's psychedelic guitar freakouts, its signature sound energized by the change of pace.