If you have been following Woods since their 2006 debut, How To Survive In + In The Woods and the more experimental At Rear House 2007, you will have heard them evolve from folky Lo -Fi, DIY to this smooth and melodic release. The experiments are gone, they have dispensed with the ironic guitar solos of Songs In Shame (replaced with new found psychedelic guitar solos) and made an accessible breezy record. It’s easy listening, catchy, folky pop from Brooklyn with less attention to the now and more attention to the then. That is to say, it sounds less like a band finding itself in 21st century Brooklyn and more like a band finding their Dad’s record collection in late sixties/early seventies California. It will attract more attention for their ability to sound like a logical step forwards from The Byrds than for their initial originality, although the hipster press has always signalled them out as band to watch out for, and still even now with this more accessible development – or is it that they don’t know which way to jump with their support yet.
It’s not quite clear what has actually happened, listening back to 2010’s At Echo Lake or 2011’s Sun And Shade it seems like they simply dropped their usual recording in the kitchen philosophy. This new vision may have begun on their last album Bend Beyond 2012 as the drums become more present and the quality of the recordings seems to be improved – as if someone in the band inherited extra microphones instead of the one microphone they all shared on the earlier records.
The album opens with my least favourite track Shepherd, the pedal steel not quite working in uncertain hands and the upright piano recorded more in keeping with their older records. But Jeremy Earl’s sweet falsetto voice has arrived (not that it wasn’t there before) particularly on this album, it’s quite beautiful. It becomes even more apparent for me on the second track, Shining. This is where the melodious vocal and the instrumentation are heading towards an appealing countryfied Big Star sound .
Jonathan Wilson might have been involved on the next and title track with it’s sixties/seventies crossover. But it all works so well, it’s irresistible, summery even, and some Buffalo Springfield guitars wipe out Woods whole Lo -Fi history in one fell swoop. At over nine minutes the jamming guitar and grooving bass are an unexpected treat but it does remind me of Jonathan Wilson’s approach to his influences. At eight minutes the chorus returns and it’s a great moment, some frantic drums from Aaron Neveu see the song out to the end.
Moving To The Left, should really be called Moving To the Right. It bounces along like XTC on Skylarking complete with novelty saw sound and sixties joy. There might have been a time when this could have been a hit song as it ooh’s it’s way towards an old Jellyfish film clip segway.
New Light is a gorgeous backwards loop and a honeyed harmony melody “May we all sleep tonight” he sings – not a chance with tunes as enticing as this, it’s the kind of record you just can’t switch off.
Leaves Like Glass is like a track from Highway 61 sung by the Lightning Seed’s Ian Broudie. The organ whirls, the guitar gives authenticity and the melody floats a halo over Dylan’s head.
Twin Steps finds us in Three O’clock, early LA Psychedelia territory, complete with Kevin Morby’s incessant bass and an acid guitar solo. I don’t really know where multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere appears on the record or whether the solos are his or Earl’s – not that it matters.
Full Moon sounds EXACTLY like George Harrison’s, My Sweet Lord with acoustic chords and lead guitar sound but incorporated into a different song with 12 string electric guitar lines, uptempo drums and a little too regular poppiness, for some reason a slightly weaker track than the others.
Only The Lonely breaks out into solid drums, arpeggio guitars in a contradictory organic perfection always pleasing you with Earl’s mellifluous voice and harmonies.
The album ends with Feather Man and they definitely have one of those inherited microphones working, comparing how they used to record acoustic guitars to how they do it now. Strings too, but only now is there a hint of experimentaion and weirdness, not that I miss it, that’s just a different band to this one. Make your own choice as to which one you prefer, but this version will be gaining popularity quickly presuming they find a way to let the world know how beautiful they can be.