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Woods - Sun and Shade

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Artist: Woods

Album: Sun and Shade

Label: Woodsist

Review date: Jun. 29, 2011

The best way I can put Woods’ longevity and consistency into context is with two stories that bookend my own history with the band. Somewhere around the beginning of 2006, I saw college rock heartthrobs Meneguar close out a line-up of hardcore bands. This may seem odd, but it certainly wasn’t to anyone packed into that Boston tattoo parlor: everyone could sing along to every song. After the show I swung by the merch table, and that’s where I picked up a weird-looking single called “Ram” from a side project named Woods. Those early experiments in no-fidelity and near-falsetto singing still possess an aura of discovery to this day, but at that time, for a bunch of college radioheads trafficking almost exclusively in the Western Massachusetts hardcore medium, they were just weird.

Fast forward to about two weeks ago: the band is playing an album release show for Sun and Shade for its sixth (more or less) full-length in a Roman Catholic church in Brooklyn. The pews are filled, show tapers are pleading for board feeds, and the act that introduces them is Ed Askew, one of the forefathers of “weird.” Quotes are necessary now, because a lot has changed in five years. Woods is now the main act, not just for the guys formerly known as Meneguar, but for the variegated Brooklyn scene as a whole. The fringe is now the bellwether.

To get back to the point about consistency, the basic gist of it is this: if you’ve heard one Woods song, you’ve heard almost all of them. Or rather, two songs, as there are two styles to which most of their oeuvre can be assigned. The first is marked by a rough, indie twang that slides somewhere between the big country sounds of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (emphasis on Young as far as vocals go) and the city slackin’ of Pavement. On Sun and Shade, this mode is in full control, and is more refined than ever. As distant sounding as the recording continues to be, I’d be hard-pressed to make the lo-fi designation stick now. Live staple “Pushing Onlys” sounds exactly the way it sounded in the church, swirling tape loops and all. But beyond just the recording quality are the songs, themselves, which are trudging rather sonorously towards full-on pop. “Any Other Day” clocks in at just under two minutes and consists of three or four chords, a couple slight verses, and a simple, crushing chorus: “I won’t believe / that it can’t get worse.” Primal, accessible, and infinitely relatable, this is the lowest common denominator for the mixtapers and radio music directors of the world.

That covers the majority of the album: another reliable stump of pop ballads and/or anthems with a couple bona fide hits thrown in. Woods’ second sonic mode, however, lies on the opposite end of the spectrum. The jam session has always been where the band’s experimental side has gone, particularly live. During shows, the shorter pop tunes are possessed by the ghost of Jerry Garcia; what seems like a tuning exercise turns into a 10-minute full band freak out that finally culminates in a damaged take on whatever song you thought you knew the words to. On record, those meanderings were usually cut into bite-sized oddities, but not on Sun and Shade. This time, two long jams combine for almost 17 of the album’s 44 minutes. And once again, in much the same way that the fidelity gap between the recording and the live show has closed, so, too, has the uncut experimentalism. “Out of the Eye” and “Sol y Sombra” are tracks to get lost to, even as the other 10 on the album plant you firmly in the middle of the Brooklyn sound.

So, going back through Sun and Shade, it’s easy to say that this is a clear-cut case of more of the same, and we should all be so lucky that a good band has figured out how to be consistently good. But that is too reductive. The thing that deserves our attention is that in a scene that has a hard time innovating, let alone inventing, Woods has figured out how to expand the range of their sound while still preserving the median.

By Evan Hanlon

Other Reviews of Woods

Songs of Shame

At Echo Lake

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Find out more about Woodsist

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