by Sam Houghton
It is the 21st century, in the heat of the age-old question of simplicity versus complexity. No matrix yet, but damn close. Technology is developing at a ravenous pace. Stage floors are no longer open for strutting, but littered with electrical equipment. Depending on your preference, the pivotal question that may have destroyed the 80s has become more and more relevant: how do we wield our tools without losing the primal, down home feel?
Woods, a four piece from Brooklyn, may indeed have an answer for all those in despair, at least for the listener.
Musicians always get worked up over this discussion… and for good reason (good as in if you believe music transcends mere entertainment, or that entertainment is more than cheep tricks and gimmicks). The question’s origins root beyond music to a basic human dilemma, like something similar to deciding between the country life or life in the big city: do we move out to the sticks and breed bundles of blond-haired children with big bosomed vixens and chop down trees for our houses and raise chickens for our breakfast and build fires that stretch smoke over our vast plots of land; or do we live the rest of our days in this crazed and confused city, doing weird drugs and running amok, competing and showboating our own art like a throng of hungry stock brokers. Essentially, it is an argument between humble versus pretentsious; status quo versus progression; songwriting versus shock value rock.
Woods, live and on their recent full length, Sun and Shade [Woodsist - 2011], somehow sits straddle the middle of the road amongst these oppositions. They are woodsmen with enough swagger to handle even the most eccentric, foaming from the mouth city dweller; city slickers with enough know how to straddle a raging bull and swill the hardest whiskey. They toy with the pretentsious over a simple landscape of acoustic songwriting. They control electric sound waves pulsing out of their gadgets and machines. Calling Brooklyn home, it seems they moved from the sticks with their backwoods sound, while still in the throes of searching for something more and different and challenging.
The most memorable and striking song on the album is “To Have in the Home.” The song is similar to Brian Jonestown Massacre circa the Give it Back years with the Newcomb rolling guitar echoing and diving between the simple but grooving, acoustic-driven rhythm. The song hits home with the heady melody – sung high, almost falsetto in the true Woods fashion – interweaving with the lead guitar over the groove. It blasts a happy and flowing psychedelic feel yet with enough of an enjoyable edge to cut the 60’s nostalgic bullshit. It is a genuine, progressive in the acidity levels, jam.
A couple songs on Sun and Shade does paint Woods as the typical, 60’s stoner band inviting images of smiling suns and acid and ringing guitars harking back to The Byrds and “Tamborine Man.” But as the album plays through, we realize there are deeper, darker mysteries working out. The instrumentals on the album, especially “Sol Y Sombra,” get good and wild, and play with that old Doors, thick and gritty cataclysmic sound (think “The End”). The guitar playing is erratic yet tight and poignant: sort of a surf-y, bone-chillin quality with the bass and African drums keeping it tight and spooky. I could see how some would grow tired of the repetition, the song comes in just under ten minutes, but they are revolutionizing the jam in this tune. I advise you to turn out the lights, gather some supplies and blast this one out: see if you can pass the Woodsist Test.
Addmitingly so, I’ve been out of the loop with these folk and there past albums, but I think this album is up there for top albums of the year, no doubt within Brooklyn… if you’re into that sort of thing. Live, they are inventive and not afraid to the push the limits, often jumping into long jams that hang on one progression. In the height of hip, no one has the balls to pull that off.