Mad talented — that’s pretty much the only way to describe Woods.
Formed in 2005 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the alternative folk group, made up of solid writers and artistic masters, quickly gained attention for its uniquely lo-fi yet intricate song structures and pensive lyrics. After adding signature jam sessions during its live shows, the jaw-dropping creativity and musical faculty of Woods became promptly known.
The band has long been recognized for the arching sense of immediacy in its records. Its previous albums had a raw, last-minute sound that made the actual recording seem like an afterthought. But for its latest effort released last Tuesday, Bend Beyond, the band has traded in the garage alt-folk for a masterpiece of high-fidelity studio sounds.
As lead singer Jeremy Earl told Pitchfork, “That was always our style: embrace the spontaneous energy of recording a song the minute after it’s written, do the overdubs really fast, mix while recording. For this album, we decided to re-record stuff more.”
That re-recording is evident in Bend Beyond. Rich sounds are seamlessly layered over each other, with a solid rhythm section filling the background with steady poise. And Earl’s truly flawless falsetto vocals take over every song, making for a musical combination that is incredibly easy to listen to.
The title track has long been a jam staple for Woods’ live shows but is much more concise and edited in recording. It’s one thing to have the skill and capacity to be a jam band (especially a good one), but to abridge your jams into a four-minute pop song is a whole other ability, one Woods also masters.
In the deceivingly simple “Cascade,” the band condenses an epic jam into one minute and 55 seconds, all while packing in a tinge of Eastern melody, a guitar yearning to break into distortion and a bass drum that means business. Woods doesn’t seem to believe in filler, instead approaching the album with a mentality both economical and creatively satisfying.
There’s much 1960s influence on the record as well. The poppy first single, “Cali In a Cup,” presents a textbook definition of sunny music. Earl’s vocals are tuned to perfection here, and the harmonica adds a nostalgic vibe of good memories.
Meanwhile, the airy “Wind Was The Wine” and the mysterious “Size Meets The Sound” possess psychedelic undertones so authentic, they almost seem accidentally inspired — this carries through in regards to Earl’s vocals as well.
Earl is often compared to Neil Young in vocal sound, but that overlooks the whole Grateful Dead vibe of the band. Not only does the band jam as well as the Dead (arguably the pioneers of live jamming), but Earl’s vocals bring to mind Jerry Garcia’s soft serenading.
Even the song structures of the album hark back to Dead days; Garcia and his writing partner, Robert Hunter, were known for their juxtaposition of reflective lyrics with poppy melodies, an aspect that Woods has perfected as its own.
As cheery and sunny as the music might be, Bend Beyond flirts with the lyrical dark side. Songs of emotional doom and gloom are sewn together with upbeat, poppy melodies, making for the perfect mix of enchanting dejection. You might even call Woods the Grateful Dead of the 21st century, a gifted psychedelic/alt-country/jam band that dares to be pigeonholed and masquerades profundity under the guise of pop. Not many bands would be able to pull off such a feat, but Woods does it with ease and style.
Production-wise, the dreamy album is crisp, clear and perfectly arranged. The foot-tapper “Find Them Empty” follows the ethereal, melancholy “Back To Stone.” The impossibly poppy “Cali In A Cup” is followed by “Is It Honest,” a song in which Earl makes cussing sound so beautiful that your conservative grandma would be singing along to it.
Moulding inspiration into authenticity, Woods has managed to capture time-honored sounds that garner acclaim while still feeling fresh. The album is a beautiful trip down a memory lane that has yet to exist, and these lush, aural groves are the kind of Woods that you’ll love to get lost in.