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Woods - Songs of Shame

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Artist: Woods

Album: Songs of Shame

Label: Shrimper

Review date: Jun. 1, 2009

Lo-fi really isn’t a genre as much as it is an aesthetic choice, and to label a band as such tells one little more than the quality is purposely rough. Especially now, when the ability to make high-quality home recordings is ubiquitous, this choice can come across as wantonly nostalgic or as a form of neo-luddism or, on the positive side, an attempt to loose oneself from the endless complications that accompany modern recording. However, to use this as a genre descriptor is lazy. Woods doesn’t sound like Nodzzz doesn’t sound like The Arizona Record doesn’t sound like Guided by Voices.

I’ll give you a true forbearer of Woods, though: Pavement. The foursome of Jeremy Earl, Jarvis Taveniere, G. Lucas Crane and Kevin Morby is insouciant without being apathetic, and blithe without being meaningless or easily sloughed off, both hallmarks of Pavement until Stephen Malkmus’ ego got the best of the group. Beyond that, there’s the willingness to create an interesting, albeit incoherent album around simple markers like guitar sound. This isn’t to say Songs of Shame sounds like Wowee Zowee though or that they even actually sound like Pavement, but rather that they share similar attitudes and even perhaps styles, more so than any of those late-1990s Pavement clones did, making slipshod indie rock, as if the sloppiness was what made them endearing.

So, while Woods in some manner shares a family resemblance to Pavement, they’re neither wholesale knock-offs nor tonal copycats. Where Pavement mostly came off as tongue-in-cheek, Woods sound honest and genuine, and this change in tone greatly affects the substance of their songs. Honesty is pretty rare in music. It’s often confused for being revealing, such that writing about real relationships or real experiences constitutes honesty, or conflated with the canard of authenticity, such that to be honest is to be without influences, to have one’s music well up innately. Actual artistic honesty isn’t about either of these things though; it’s about being willing to take chances, to fuck up, to sometimes create beautiful works, but also to create art which is puzzling or incongruent, nauseating at times and even ignorable at others. Honesty isn’t a “warts and all” approach though, nor is it the result of a failure to self-edit, but rather the ability to create music that is appropriate or befitting – perhaps unpretentious, though that shouldn’t be the hallmark. Joanna Newsom is incredibly contrived, yet at the same time actually honest in this regard.

Songs of Shame is more humble by an entire order of magnitude, but still contains that feeling of honesty, a feeling that should allow Woods to be more than just some ephemeral pleasure once the hype around the band and their Woodsist label inevitably withers away.

By Andrew Beckerman

Other Reviews of Woods

At Echo Lake

Sun and Shade

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