Woodsman: Rare Forms

An album that’s half space rock and half Animal Collective worship. Which side wins? Unfortunately, neither.


Rare Forms

Label: Lefse
US Release date: 2011-01-25
UK Release date: Import
Label website
Band website

You might be thinking, “Enough already with the bands who drop woods into their name” -- as if referencing nature bespoke some kind of authenticity in this hipster-dominated world. Well, this quartet of mountain men from Denver, CO, look the part (beards), but luckily, they aren’t doing just another folky-indie thing. Rare Forms is Woodsman’s second proper album, though the band has put out some long EPs and CD-Rs. The major difference with this release is that Woodsman has morphed from an instrumental group to one that sometimes has vocals. Of course, these vocals are buried in the mix of percussion, tape loops and guitars, so it’s not like they’re trying to sell out or anything.

Now whether or not the addition of vocals to the mix is an improvement is a matter for debate. Rare Forms really seems to want to go in two directions: one is space rock and the other is an Animal Collective-inspired jam band. The space rock sound winds up book-ending the Animal Collective cover album: at the beginning and end, you get one personality, and in the middle, you get another. Now, Woodsman’s Animal Collective debt has been noted before by reviewers, but it seems to have developed quite to such a degree as to be almost problematic.

Let’s start with the less interesting part first: the Animal Collective collection of songs is inaugurated by the aptly titled “Spectral Creatures”, a minute’s full of rumbling drums. (Two of the band members are percussionists, by the way, as they should be). The next four songs build the shimmering, rippling, and humming using the same palette of sounds that Animal Collective uses. The zenith of this paint-by-numbers is the watery production of “Beat the Heat”, an almost shameless Panda Bear imitation but without the catchiness. It’s like they were working up the courage with the last few tracks to actually do it.

It seems however that Woodsman really isn’t interested in writing songs in the Animal Collective vein. Sure, these guys have proven they can do good, droney psych jams, but can they morph into catchy experimental pop? Let’s just say, Woodsman’s strong suit isn’t coming up with dynamic melodies. Maybe it’s a commitment to the lo-fi aesthetic of mixing all the instruments in together, without the vocals out in front. Either way, the songs don’t have a central vocal theme and thus don’t cohere into a pop formula. They still have that instrumental, drone-heavy quality -- so that the songs in the middle end up sounding like scratch tracks for Animal Collective songs.

But there is something good in here too. What Woodsman does that’s more interesting and perhaps even more pertinent is the other half of the album, the spacey drone. The first track on the album is probably the best, but it’s maddeningly misleading. “Insects” has a heavy sound driven by a reverb drenched in delayed guitar chords, around which weaves a looping pentatonic lead that references John Squire from the Stone Roses. The vocals actually soar in this song, rather than sounding timidly imitative. Woodsman is doing their version of late ‘80s or early ‘90s British rock, a mix of shoegaze and spacerock. (Think a less bombastic Verve doing Spacemen 3 covers).

Now, the space rock direction isn’t necessarily less derivative -- or even less timely than sounding like Animal Collective -- but that isn’t the point. Rock is about making repetition new. Woodsman certainly has the repetition down, but the group could improve on the making it sound new. For example, “Insects” builds and the guitar starts to do some really interesting things in the interludes, and right then, the song abruptly stops. They manage to pull out a couple more instrumental tracks in this vein, even mixing in some Earth type Western drone. And then this band takes five until two songs towards the end of the album: “Inside/Outside” and “Serfer”.

It makes you wish Woodsman had decided to explore this more compelling half a bit further -- even if it only came up to an EP. In the end, the two directions don’t come together in an enlightening way. If Woodsman stuck to the heavier and ultimately more interesting sound, at the very least it would actually sound adult (emphasizing the “man” rather than the “woods”).


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.