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Sun and Shade

(Woodsist; US: 14 Jun 2011; UK: 13 Jun 2011)

Woods, a prolific indie-folk outfit out of (you guessed it) Brooklyn, has been quietly churning out consistent slices of lo-fi folk-pop for a good five years now. They’ve even got their own label: the appropriately named Woodsist, which, since its founding by Woods/Meneguar leader Jeremy Earl in 2006, has released LPs by the likes of Blank Dogs, Kurt Vile and even Wavves.

You could be forgiven for not noticing. Woods generally sticks to the sort of rickety, backwoods pop sometimes identified as “campfire folk” (whatever that means) and steers clear of the big, wide-open harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the more overt psychedelic flourishes of artists like Akron/Family.

The formula has produced six full-lengths since 2006. Arguably the breakthrough of the bunch, last year’s At Echo Lake merged thin, crackly guitar pop with a modest runtime: at under 30 minutes (and only a few tracks scraping the three-minute mark), the album knew its way around a good pop melody, contained enough tape hiss to garner buzzwords like “earthy” and never outstayed its welcome.

In its opening tracks, Sun and Shade lives up to its predecessor in both quality and brevity. At just under two minutes, “Any Other Day” is the sort of post-Guided By Voices slice of lo-fi indie-pop at which this group excels: fuzzy acoustic guitars, a blistering haze of tremolo and distortion and some infectious vocal harmonies blaring out on the main refrain (“I won’t believe that it can’t get worse”). The track is well bookended by opener “Pushing Onlys”, a near-perfect bit of sunny psych-pop that highlights Earl’s Neil-Young-meets-Jonathan-Donahue whine, and “Be All Be Easy”, a more solemn excursion into meandering folk territory. The album’s poppiest moments are frequently its most rewarding, particularly “Hand It Out”, a driving power pop melody with an instantly memorable lead guitar hook, and “What Faces the Sheet”, featuring an acoustic lick that would be at home on classic rock FM if not for the shrieking falsetto harmonies.

On At Echo Lake, the band was smart to withhold the sort of extended, wordless psych-jams that typify the group’s celebrated live shows. Their inclusion might “help make a Woods record a more accurate souvenir of the live experiences”, conceded Rob Mitchum in that album’s Pitchfork review, “but is that really necessary?” Sun and Shade answers with a resounding but misguided yes, weighing down the its midsection with two such jammy exercises, which combine for a total of sixteen minutes (over a third of the album’s runtime). “Out of the Eye” merges a krautrock rhythmic punch with some weightless guitar noodling, while “Sol Y Sombra” sticks to floatier reverb layering—intriguing until it veers dangerously close to the ten-minute mark.

There’s little doubt that Sun and Shade could be a satisfying 30-minute indie-folk record with a bit of self-editing. Simply put, Woods would be wise to keep the psych-drone exercises in the live department, where they’re more of a treat and less of a chore.


Zach Schonfeld is a writer and former associate editor for PopMatters and a reporter for Newsweek. Previously, he was an editorial fellow at The Atlantic Wire and graduated from Wesleyan University, birthplace of Das Racist, MGMT, and the nineteenth-century respiration calorimeter, where he served as the editor of Wesleying, a popular student-life blog. In his spare time, he enjoys visiting presidential birthplaces and teaching his dog to tweet. In addition to PopMatters, his writing has appeared online at Rolling Stone, TIME, Consequence of Sound, The Nation, USA Today College, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Rumpus, Paste Magazine, and the Hartford Courant. He can be reached at zschonfeld(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @zzzzaaaacccchhh.

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