Woods - Bend Beyond
You do wonder how bands keep things interesting, and how they can produce album after album without feeling like they are on some ceaseless treadmill. Brooklyn band Woods have tackled the recording of Bend Beyond, their seventh album in seven years, with a fresh approach and a significant line-up change.
Woods are often pigeonholed within the worlds of psych-folk, indie-rock and classic rock, and founder member Jeremy Earl runs the influential Woodsist label, which boasts the likes of Real Estate, Kurt Vile and White Fence in their long discography.
Whereas past Woods releases have tended towards an immediate approach to recording, with the songs often laid down as soon as they are written, for Bend Beyond they took time to craft the songs with their new line-up. The biggest change in terms of personnel is the addition of drummer Aaron Neveu (formerly of the spell-check unfriendly psych band Mmoss) which means that Jarvis Tavniere can concentrate solely on guitar.
However, this isn't simply a case of capturing Woods live sound, as Bend Beyond turns out to be a collection of short, sharp songs, and it never quite gets as acid-fried as some of their live jams.
This isn't immediately obvious as the title track kicks things off with the nearest thing to a 'wig-out' on the whole album. For the first two minutes it is a pop song but then the mid-section goes off at a delightful tangent with lots of overlapping guitars before the chorus reigns back it in.
'Cali In A Cup' is a gentler acoustic song with a much lighter touch, which manages to be summery and catchy whilst retaining a Byrds-style country-rock feel complete with harmonica. From here on, it starts to become clear that Woods have really worked on the song writing this time, and the album is crammed with two minute pop songs, which are more in the classic feel of the Byrds or the Kinks, rather than the more shambolic lo-fi indie way. The short instrumental 'Cascade' is the only time they veer away from a pop tune.
Both 'Is It Honest?' and 'Impossible Sky' remind me a lot of prime period Teenage Fanclub, and 'It Ain't Easy' is gentle county-pop with just acoustic guitar and pedal steel. 'Find Them Empty' combines all the elements beautifully - noisy, edgy guitars and organ skirting around a fine piece of garage-pop-rock - as does 'Size Meets the Sound' which is dominated by Jeremy Earl's distinctive falsetto and the teasing hint of more improve wigging-out towards the end.
At this stage there are so many indie-rock singers who sing falsetto it has become a cliché, but Earl's is not a run-of the-mill voice. It fits Woods music perfectly and at times is reminiscent of that other legendary falsetto voice, Richard Manuel of the Band.
If you have seen Woods live or heard some of their earlier releases it is likely you have a preconception of what Bend Beyond might sound like. However, although it isn't as radical a change as some might claim, this is the sound of an invigorated band, breathing new life into traditional rock and pop structures and pushing those boundaries as they do it.