Release Date: Mar 5, 2013
Record label: Woodsist
The Woolen Men are three guys from Portland who have obviously worn out their copies of Dead Moon and Wipers' albums, looking with each listen to unlock the secret of what made those two bands so great, and maybe re-create a little of their magic with their own recordings. They've been working at it over a series of singles and cassettes, but 2013's The Woolen Men is their first widely distributed album. The album shows that the trio has indeed done a fine job of absorbing the mid-fi, northwest punk aesthetic of those two bands, but also a healthy dose of quirky New Zealand pop, too.
The Woolen Men play lo-fi, DIY rock'n'roll in the tradition of fellow Portland groups like the Wipers or 2003-era Thermals, combined with the '60s pop sensibilities of Woodsist labelmates White Fence and Vivian Girls. As is often the case with Portland, OR punk musicians, the Woolen Men emphasize work ethic and tradition over trendiness and popularity. The end result of this committed attitude is a fittingly solid debut album.
I’m not sure I still believe in DIY’s ethos. Is this the world we’ve created for ourselves, ideologically cut out and away of the middle section from the glut and irony inherent in our lives? The “authentic,” the “real,” the starvation for attention coupled with the lexicon of irreverence; will we be DIY when we’re 64? And what does it mean to me now? I see DIY yoga studios, DIY home-brew starter kits, DIY cheese, #DIY, DIY things on Etsy, DIY homemaking (as the first Google result), and DIY venture capitalism — the whole DIY process completely hijacked by the middle-brow American culture I feel completely bored and at ends with, on labels and signs in Whole Foods, baby boutiques, and artisanal pet stores. The indie rock I grew up with declared itself morally bankrupt from the foundations it (we) built.
The Woolen Men are a deceptive lot. Their eponymous record’s opening track, “Mayonnaise”, is full of sunkissed guitar tones, idyllic sounds that represent the suburban image the song rails against. It’s a tuneful start to an album that then can’t sit still, jumping from the angular eccentricity of “Hold It Up” to the jangling dust of “Hazel” to the lo-fi fuzz of “Drunkard’s Dream”.
The Pacific Northwest has never been short on proud indie rock exports, including the endless array of acts offered up through the likes of Sub Pop and K Records. But the debut full-length by The Woolen Men proves the region has more to offer these days than history. The trio’s members — Raf Speilman, Lawton Browning, and Alex Geddes — are intuitive students of the area’s firm underground foundation, and the Portland band’s self-titled debut offers up all the proof.