Woods: Songs of Shame

Rob McCallum

How many great musicians live in Brooklyn, seriously?


Songs of Shame

Label: Woodsist
US Release Date: 2009-04-14
UK Release Date: 2009-04-20

Being based in Brooklyn can raise instant connotations about a band in 2009, with a number of lauded artists from the area having released below par material. The Woodsist back catalogue, however, serves as a who’s who of creative integrity from the city, including the exposure of the much-hyped early work of Wavves, the NY institution that is Magic Lantern and new boy on the scene, Kurt Vile. Ran by Jeremy Earl, one third of the core trio of the Woods' lineup and the man behind the falsetto vocals ever present, on the basis of Songs of Shame, the Woods boys not only seem to be unconstrained by the forces of the city they live in, but of any they may have found the time to travel through either.

The Woodsist ensemble have released a plethora of records, CD-R’s and cassette tapes under a variety of names including Woods Family Band, Woods Family Creeps, and their current form, known simply as Woods. With an ever-expanding basis of artists within its stables, the Woods assembly is a constantly changing collective of friends from the city. In their Woods guise the band consist of vocalist Earl, drummer G. Lucas Crane and all round multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere, who simply states ‘We’re not into Woods being this one thing’.

The first two tracks of the record, "To Clean" and "The Hold", both sub-three minutes, are examples of the Woods' unique form of scuzzy, guitar-driven, psyched-out folk music where the band manage to morph elements of so many past genres whilst sharing Stephen Malkmus’s lazy sounding perfection to masterfully blend this hybrid of influences.

"The Number" strips all the previous tape-hiss back, sounding like it could be lifted from a long lost Neil Young recording of the Massey Hall era. Yet the album really begins to take flight with all nine minutes and forty two seconds of "September With Pete", ranging from blissful psychedelia to the motorik chug of Wooden Shjips, it really manages to prick the listeners’ ears that something special might be going on here.

The album continuously teases and just as you thought the band has completed its repertoire of genres to bend they add something new to the mix to freshen it up. Despite this constant transformation of the albums soundscape, it is saved from sounding at any stage schizophrenic by maintaining a balanced focus upon both each individual track and the LP as a whole. Yet the strict arrangement has a clever way of never sounding forced merely in order to aid the final product, but for the obviously vast creative stimulus necessary for the band.

Young returns on more than one occasion, and Earl’s falsetto vocals on "Down This Road" sounds like you could be listening to the lazy thoughts of a youthful Neil Young without the filter of the writing process or a recording studio upon him. This influence is further confirmed with the inclusion of a cover of Crosby, Stills, and Nash' "Military Madness". However, the melancholy 60s influences laid upon the delicate vocal with its meandering guitar solos saves it from sounding like any form of imitation.

Just as the album begins to show any level of complacency or indulging too heavily into one sound it re-invents itself into a completely new form, continually evolving from beginning to end. "Born to Lose" is the laziest piece of psych folk you could ever come to hear, using its dual vocals to give a sense of both solitude and optimism in the same sub two minute section, giving final proof the band would certainly stand up to the hype that so far has eluded it, but surrounded so many from their native city.

Songs of Shame keeps you guessing by continually breaking the rules of the folk music it finds itself loosely based within, creating their own brand of free-folk in the process. Crane’s constantly changing drumming style and sound tightly knits the hybrid of genres of the record together and serves as a necessary anchor point to the skeletal space the album builds. Live, Crane plays with an accompaniment to his percussion as an upturned, single stringed bass guitar, played as a drum. This attitude seems to be the kind of level the band bring in their approach to song writing, where simplicity is key but aligning to any conventional form is an antithesis.

Tying back to Taveniere's original statement, it seems the band doesn't like Woods to be ‘this one thing’ not only in terms of recording musicians, but at any stage across the LP either: a distinct penchant for infectious melody is the only real ever present aspect throughout.

It’s interesting that a collective known for releasing mix tapes of their main influences manages to go to portray these so clearly on their own recordings, yet never fall foul of relying too heavily upon the hybrid of nostalgia they pool from. "Gypsy Hand" gives Songs of Shame the scuzzed-out, guitar-laden ending it so deserves before "Where and What Are You ?" allows the record to meander off into a freak Fleet Fox-esque vocally harmonious closure. Each individual track on Songs of Shame manages to develop not only as the album progresses, but with each time the LP is played, with new favourites manifesting themselves with each listen, a sign of a truly great album.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castle, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.


Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.