Review : Woods - Songs of Shame
TinymixtapesWoods aren’t reticent about their artistic aims. Songs of Shame aspires to naturalism, in content and form. The fidelity suggests MiniDisc in a living room, and their sound is pretty woodsy, I guess, at least to the siren-bludgeoned city ears that belong to the the majority of their fans. They like Neil Young a lot (lead singer Jeremy Earl does a thin-voiced impression of him most of the record); they cover CSN&Y’s “Military Madness”; and they allude to Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” on “Rain On" (rhyming "the damage is done" with "under a setting sun”). They are also on Woodsist records, and I bet you can guess what their album cover looks like. I would have suggested some hirsute full frontal on the jacket sleeves, but still. Woods.
In this spirit of forthrightness, then, I offer my knee-jerk reactions, unmitigated by self-censorship and without concessions to critical consensus — hell, I barely even fact-checked. For example, I think it was unwise of the band to tap Stephen Malkmus to play the first notes of the record, as his self-parodic slanted and enchanted solo throws the relative dullness of the following half hour into relief. “The Number” is addressed to a guilt-ridden "queen" who yearns for the summer to come and absolve her of her sins. The listener, on the other hand, yearns for Built to Spill’s more assured and distinct ventures into Neil Young land. The nine-minute “September on Peter” reminds me how much I dislike the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and that’s about the only thing it does. Not one of the several grainy acoustic singalongs intoxicate like Guided by Voices’s "14 Cheerleader Coldfront," despite fragile closer "Where and What Are You," which instills in the listener a deeper respect for the craftsmanship of M. Ward, who never confuses underwritten for ephemeral....full text
CokemachineglowThere’s a b-side kicking around that’s proof of how good this record could have been. On “The Dark,” the flipside to the “Sunlit” 7”, Woods sound positively concise: in just two minutes the band maneuvers through verses, choruses, and a chorus-turned-outro so tightly it embarrasses much of this full-length. Songs of Shame is patchy by comparison, with even its best moments failing to live up to this red-matter-singularity of pop wonder.
Where “The Dark” opens with a compositional element (a guitar arpeggio that underpins the verses), Songs of Shame leadoff “To Clean” begins with a shrug: twenty five seconds of fuzzy, inessential noodling. Once the verse settles in it reveals Woods greatest strength to be their distant, fetching songcraft. Inevitably linked to the scene by the Woodsist roster (Wavves, Vivian Girls, Psychedelic Horseshit, Crystal Stilts), Woods do lo-fi subtly; there’s a homespun experimentation with levels and textures, vocals alternatively revealed and concealed behind toy guitars and foil-thin drums. In its best moments, Songs of Shame offers plaintive melodies set against a gently urgent rhythmic backdrop, evoking a delicate balance of influences (freak folk, Pavement, Guided By Voices) and moods (hopeful, content, melancholy). These moments are too fleeting, however, and one must contend with duds, instrumental jams, and an inconsequential cover to find them.
“The Hold” and “The Number” sustain the opener’s momentum while for the most part keeping the band’s noise leanings subservient to the songs. After this solid opening, however, the album takes a bizarre turn. “September With Pete” finds the band eschewing song completely for an exhausting free-form jam, lasting nearly three times longer than any other track here. Placing a ten minute jam just four tracks in is a game-changer: it’s a jarring about-face that is indifferent, if not hostile, to the album’s verisimilitude. Is this an In Utero (1993)-style attempt to shed the casual listener, or is Woods throwing down the gauntlet, insisting that you come to grips with both its permutations? Perhaps “September” is meant to insist that, yes, the band still is arty and experimental, though this anxiety is unnecessary since their adventurousness even remains clear from the band’s choice of textures in their “normal songs.”...full text
PitchforkLike many Woodsist Records alums-- the NYC-based label has also recently issued records by Vivian Girls, Wavves, Crystal Stilts, and Sic Alps-- Woods have spent much of their time together quickly earning respect and fans in underground rock circles. Unlike those previously mentioned groups, however, they've done it by exploring a more pastoral and rustic vein of songcraft rather than loft-ready noise. On their three previous albums-- released in limited editions on a variety of formats across a choice selection of micro-labels-- Woods created a distinctive blend of spooky campfire folk, lo-fi rock, homemade tape collages, and other noisy interludes, all anchored by deceptively sturdy melodies.
Woods' latest album, Songs of Shame, is their most cohesive collection, and it's not only quickly lifted them to front of the Woodsist crew but positioned them to be the group that appeals to those who've previously been uninterested in the 2008-09 crop of lo-fi. As with the best lo-fi albums, Songs of Shame performs some sleight-of-hand by sounding private and homespun yet also not just accessible but immediately lovable. Along the way, Woods can evoke any number of their lo-fi ancestors, from early Guided by Voices to the murkier depths of the Siltbreeze or Flying Nun back catalogs, but they're still able to retain their own immediately recognizable off-kilter character.
The group is centered primarily on the duo of Jeremy Earl (proprietor of Fuck It Tapes) and Jarvis Taveniere (Meneguar, Wooden Wand) and they've designed this record through an affinity for home recording and its attendant cassette culture. As befits an act with a somewhat befuddling discography, many of the recordings on Songs of Shame first appeared last fall on the tour cassette Some Shame. But even for the select few who've heard that release, these tracks have lost none of their charm. On the melodic "Down This Road" or "Born to Lose", Earl's vocals have a strange, slightly unhinged pitch, sounding something like a muffled Neil Young. Drums clatter in the distance as though buried behind drywall, and G. Lucas Crane occasionally adds discreet tape effects to the din. Meanwhile, forceful guitar solos zoom unpredictably in and out of the frame, hazily recalling a time when it seemed every band boasted at least one avid J Mascis aficionado....full text
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