Last spring, when I was in nervous anticipation of becoming a father, I received a cassette tape in the mail from the Eggy label, run by The Woolen Men’s Raf Spielman (he’s also written for this website). It was a tape by The Woolen Men called Hair of the Night, and what I remembered most wasn’t the music (because I lost track of the tape and never listened to it until recently), but the letter that he’d included with it. People love to stuff all sorts of written materials in the packages with their releases, but Spielman was trying to start a dialogue, one beyond my lukewarm review of his earlier band the Polyps; I could tell that, if maybe not an avid reader of my Still Single Tumblr, he at least understood the agenda that outlet is trying to push, insomuch as he didn’t try to describe it, but implied that “it” was what his new band did, and what we would like.
This past spring, it became easier for me to check out The Woolen Men’s music. Raf Spielman was dead on correct. This band of his? I love this band. The Woolen Men plays into the once-maligned genre of “college rock,” that 1980s classification that no one would dare use to sell a record today. College rock was not punk (well past it for the most part); it meant to classify pop and rock bands that people who read books and wrote might listen to, for and by romantics and sometimes saps, but the good memories (autumn, academia, first kisses) that go along with those sounds strikes a chord with many of you, even if you are too young to put a name on it. The term is fitting here, and The Woolen Men do it so well as to very nearly wipe the slate of negative connotations, denim shirts and ponytails it might’ve once been burdened with. Here is a band that’s writing songs you could live in, casting a net over IRS-era R.E.M. and most of the alternative rock from the South, Paisley Underground blooms, Mission of Burma (then and now), the whole of New Zealand underground pop, Mike Nesmith’s better solo records (seriously, the one guy sounds just like him), even at times the stately, incomparable sound of Silkworm.
Through this diverse arrangement of influences, intentional or accidental, they have found themselves, and their own voice – a patient one, at times one of wisdom – emerges from the pile-on of great music before them, be it the melancholy shake of “Deaf Americans,” the cheerily defiant anti-suburb anthem “Mayonnaise,” or the gear-grinding tape saturation of “Drunkard’s Dream.” Too many winners to count with this crew. They take a lot of what’s good about a lot of good music, and make it their own. They should have played Maxwell’s before it closed. They’re that kind of band, they’re my kind of band.
Start with their Woodsist full-length, as it’s their most consistent and powerful batch of songs, then move on to Dog Years, a collection of tracks from their various cassette releases. Between that comp and the split with Lame Drivers, you’d have most of the originals from the Hair Of The Night tape, but you’d be missing crucial covers by the Flamin’ Groovies and the Fairytale, but if you ignore the split, you miss out on their clutch version of the Terminals’ “Frozen Car.” And, of course, an intro to Lame Drivers.
Just before college rock (seriously I understand not using this term, it’s so gross, but really I’m just making a point) became a thing, the luckless young lovers out there had power pop to help them build a tougher exterior. This is where The Woolen Men’s tourmates, Lame Drivers, come in. They’re from the opposite coast, currently making their way in Brooklyn, and those of you who go out to better shows might recognize their frontman Jason Sigal as the bassist for another local wonder who’d fit right in this discussion, Big Dan DiMaggio’s estimable Home Blitz. The songs on the split and this unwieldy flexi-book – five flexi-discs, bound into a non-slip package with eye-popping artwork behind each clear plate – tell of a band drawing from a shallower well, but which commands as much respect. After listening to the bright hooks and aching Twilley-esque gut-punch of “Other Side” and Embarrassment-like rattle of “Frozen Egg,” it’s easy to see why these bands have joined forces on the road twice now.
Along with Connections, Home Blitz and a handful of other notables, Lame Drivers and The Woolen Men put rock music back in the hands of the feeble hopefuls, the shrinking violets and the dreamers. The posturing is gone once again; vulnerable, special human beings who have found solace and encouragement in music are found underneath. Seek out these unassuming-looking recordings at any cost.
By Doug Mosurock