How many great musicians live in Brooklyn, seriously?
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.