Release Date: Jun 14, 2011
Record label: Woodsist
On Woods' fifth album in five years, the duo of Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere keep getting better and better. Their 2010 record At Echo Lake refined their sound, cleaning it up a bit, focusing the songwriting, and delivering equally exciting pop and noise thrills. On Sun and Shade, they go a step further to the point of actually being mid-fi, instead of resolutely lo-fi.
Sometimes Woods sounds easily loft-ready, at others it’s nestled in more complex escapism from industrial park air. Yet unlike other bands in the Woodsist family, the handmade quality has become less perceptible and more meditative with Sun & Shade, allowing noisier elements to puncture subtly through the foursome’s songcraft, with slow sweeps interrupted by a theremin-like ending of the opener’s “Pushing Onlys” and hovering lo-fi synths throughout “Any Other Day. ” Musical dichotomies aren’t lost on the album’s title, either—each song has as much ability to break apart within its folky constructions as do the individual songs within the tracklist.
By now, Woods’ music shouldn’t be so effective. Since their 2009 breakthrough Songs of Shame, the prolific Brooklyn group has essentially recreated the same album of ramshackle psych-folk once a year, often with similar song titles or lyrical themes. But they’ve morphed into one of the most dependably great acts around through superior songwriting, rising above the lo-fi graveyard to craft perhaps their best offering yet with Sun & Shade.You’d be forgiven for thinking that Woods might hit a stylistic dead-end at some point.
When I first caught on to Woods with 2009's Songs of Shame, they'd already been around for a few years, releasing albums in limited editions, sometimes under the name Woods Family Creeps. Songs of Shame was immediately enjoyable, as it spun together strands of folk-rock, ramshackle indie, and sunshine pop into something that felt handmade and fresh. But listening to it, I didn't peg Woods as the kind of band that would keep turning out remarkably well-realized and consistent albums on a yearly basis.
Even though Brooklyn lo-fi folkers Woods dispense some of the most assured pop melodies this side of the radio, underneath the hooks always runs an array of primal collages cut and pasted from some missing year of music between the ’60s and ’70s. On Sun and Shade, Woods’ fifth LP in as many years, the band performs their best balancing act yet by resting their wistful melodies on top of a flowing spirituality that pins the album low enough in the sky to provide just enough light to accompany the oncoming darkness. The tape hiss and low-rent production cast behind singer/guitarist Jeremy Earl’s swallowed falsetto often served as the primary definition of Woods.
Brooklyn quartet Woods really have a thing for the ‘60s. They’re all over the stylistic map on Sun and Shade, their sixth full-length album in six years—bouncing from strummy pop to psych-folk to home-brewed Kraut-rock—but every single second is bathed in charming nostalgia for a bygone era. Commencing with four barely-there drum stick clicks, opener “Pushing Onlys” eases into a catchy, melancholy electric guitar barn wrangle, a perfect frame for vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Earl’s screeching falsetto.
When something’s wrong, can you feel it? When you’re falling short, do you know it? Or do you have to wait for someone to tell you? Would you rather they didn’t and let you keep on thinking things were fine? I’m not saying Sun and Shade is a bad Woods record. But I fell into woozy, exhausting love with 2009’s Songs of Shame, a disjointed and exuberant pastiche that imagined Neil Young fronting a band of actual fairies, strung together with a series of exalted, unnerving, haunting vocal hooks. Most of the ingredients that made Shame great are still here in some form: the spidery, crunchy country-fried guitar work; shambolic drumming; and of course, Jeremy Earl’s unique falsetto, still riding the line between vulnerable and alien.
Woods have stealthily carved out a reputation over the last few years as one of the most consistently rewarding bands out there. Their debut album proper, At Rear House, was full of haunting, home-spun folk anthems; dark, shadowy and beautiful. Since then Woods - songwriter Jeremy Earl, guitarist Jarvis Taveniere and instrumentalist/sound-scaper Lucas Crane – have lightened their palate: last year’s At Echo Lake was a glorious cavalcade of summer hymns, the group slyly shifting from folk to folk/indie-rock.
Upon first listening to Pushing Onlys, the opening track to Woods’s latest Sun and Shade, I was stricken with a sense of awe, wonder, and sheer disgust in the bubblegum-like quality of frontman Jeremy Earl’s falsetto. And in some ways I still can’t digest the campiness of that particular cut, but regardless, having never listened to anything else from the Woods catalogue before this moment, there is something to appreciate in what Woods have been attempting. While it is understandable why none of the albums Woods has released have made the splash that Devendra Banhart or Bon Iver have in the indie folk world, Woods have been consistent in making half-decent attempts at the ramshackle appeal of their lo-fi, analogue sound (last year’s At Echo Lake stands apart as their opus thus far).
Woods, a prolific indie-folk outfit out of (you guessed it) Brooklyn, has been quietly churning out consistent slices of lo-fi folk-pop for a good five years now. They’ve even got their own label: the appropriately named Woodsist, which, since its founding by Woods/Meneguar leader Jeremy Earl in 2006, has released LPs by the likes of Blank Dogs, Kurt Vile and even Wavves. You could be forgiven for not noticing.
A charming collection which might possess more mass appeal than its makers realise. Mike Diver 2011 Album number six from this rural-ways-evoking outfit doesn’t stray far from the dusty path they’ve followed with great results ‘til this point: bucolic, but not without bite, Sun and Shade is both instantly familiar and wonderfully rewarding if you let it spin away over several plays. Recorded at Buttermilk Falls, a state park south-west of Ithaca, New York, this set captures well the sense of escapism and retreat that comes with any venturing from city to country: strums are lazy, deliberately woozy; the vocals drift ghostly, like whispers through trees.
Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein Jazz doesn’t have many great albums featuring two pianists, and the rare examples tend to be mano-a-mano affairs, one virtuoso facing another on equal terms. So “Bienestan,” due out on Sunnyside on Tuesday, is exceptional in more than one sense. It’s the work of Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein, pianist-composers with a friendship going back 20 years, when they were both students in Boston.