Review : Woods - Bend Beyond
PitchforkIn the world of Woods, minor refinements mean a lot. Bend Beyond is the Brooklyn band's seventh album in seven years, and in broad terms it isn't all that different from Woods' other records. The group's reference points remain the same: 1960s sunshine pop, the Grateful Dead's improvisational explorations, and 90s lo-fi. The most immediately distinctive attribute of Woods' music-- and its most decisive point of demarcation-- is singer Jeremy Earl's childlike falsetto; if you can't appreciate Earl's voice, Woods' rapidly growing discography (which is also rounded out by various EPs and singles) will be a non-starter. Otherwise, that body of work is among the most consistently enjoyable from any young indie rock band in the past several years, and Bend Beyond is Woods' most approachable gateway yet.
As for the minor refinements made on Bend Beyond, they aren't all that minor at all, actually-- the songwriting is more disciplined, and the production offers more clarity and variety than ever before. While 2011's Sun and Shade exhibited Woods' jammy side amid the usual folk-pop gems, Bend Beyond is all pop, all the time, with only one song running past the four-minute mark, and only by 25 seconds. That song happens to be the foreboding title track, already one of the all-time great Woods tracks and an in-concert highlight that runs two or three times longer live than on record. But even in truncated form, "Bend Beyond" is a thrilling example of Woods' ability (in spite of living thousands of miles away on the opposite coast) to conjure the spirits of L.A. folk rock and the dark vibes emanating from the scene's seamy underbelly. If "Bend Beyond" is the album's best song, "Is It Honest?" sounds like the record's surest hit, opening with a shimmering electric-guitar riff that might be the single catchiest moment on any Woods album. (Though it's rivaled by the harmonica blowing like a train whistle through "Cali in a Cup".) But darkness lingers in "Is It Honest?", too-- "It's so fucking hard to see," Earl spits in the chorus, an uncommonly aggressive moment in this group's otherwise peaceful, pastoral universe.
Whatever battles are being waged in the lyrics against demons real and imagined don't carry over to the music, which is effervescent and sweetly touching and unmistakably presented with well-earned confidence and new-found polish. On past records, Woods might have obscured the delicate campfire ballad "It Ain't Easy" in layers of tape hiss. (Tape manipulator G. Lucas Crane is mostly absent throughout Bend Beyond.) But here it shines in crystal-clear fidelity, and the stunning melody earns such treatment, carried on sparkling acoustic guitar and Earl's tender, heart-tugging vocal....full text
ConsequenceofsoundUnderneath the sun-dappled guitar reels, bleary falsetto, and lo-fi hum on Brooklyn trio Woods’ past records, a certain sadness would occasionally surface. Year after year, a new album would show up, replete with pitch-perfect AM pop hooks and crackling, sepia-toned acoustics. At first, the felicitous arrangements would overpower the senses, leading down the garden path to marvel at spring’s bounty. But vocalist Jeremy Earl knew winter would come and if you unpack the poetry of songs like “Suffering Season” (from 2010′s At Echo Lake), and you’ll see that Earl’s warbling about the undeniability of pain and loss. Now in their seventh consecutive year of new albums, Woods hit upon some of their clearest depictions of dark emotions on Bend Beyond, while simultaneously offering an escape in the emotive beauty of their music.
It helps that Earl’s vocals have never been clearer — pushed to the fore rather than filtered by effects or buried in lo-fi haze. The constant tones and intentional enunciation pass him off as a more present Nico, certainly more aware of exactly what he’s singing. Because of that clean delivery, the darker lyrical tones are that much more apparent, more dominant in the mix. They’re still colored by that lilting falsetto, though, a major factor in keeping Bend Beyond from wallowing in its own darkness.
Even in the purest saccharine pop musical moments, Earl’s noting the fading sun. On the joyous “Cali in a Cup”, harmonica hills and loping bass propel a easy-crooning melody. While the triumphant Simon & Garfunkel melodies sweetly sing about moving past weakness, Earl’s not going to ignore the fact that this is a moment, not an eternity. Our weekends are showered, he says, “with flowers from their graves,” the past and future surrounded in death. This reminder, though, manages to compel a more present sense of self, the urgency to embrace the bright moments when they come....full text
NmeThere’s nothing new about a lo-fi band cleaning up their sound, and Brooklyn’s Woods return with a can of Mr Sheen firmly in hand. ‘Bend Beyond’ survives this shift away from the comfort of soft focus by virtue of its precise songcraft. Singer Jeremy Earl may conjure a distinctly indiefied falsetto, but his writing channels a host of celebrated songsmiths, from Dylan (‘It Ain’t Easy’) to Teenage Fanclub (‘Impossible Sky’) via The Doors and The Flaming Lips. The psychedelic outings sound too sharp as a consequence, but it’s an effective repositioning overall, even if it’s hard not to want to scruff up their hair just a little....full text
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