Sinister undertones can't be kept at bay, and Woods explode into something more tangible than their jam-rock past.
Atop a rolling, country-tinged jangly build, Jeremy Earl sings "It's so fucking hard," repeatedly on "Is It Honest". "Can you relieve me?" he continues to ask. Separate Earl's memorable falsetto from the kind of rolling, casual grace (Often reminiscent of War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel) of the track, and you'd be walking in fairly desperate territory. Yet buoyed by their craft, that of seemingly effortless jamming, Woods present what at first sounds like strange marriage: dark, contemplative folk and some of the more finely constructed jam rock of the last 10 years.
Yet by the end of Bend Beyond this marriage has broken off, and only repeated listens will provide enlightenment into where the divergence occurred. Bend Beyond is so rich in its aesthetics though that this notion is easier said than done.
Woods manage to break new ground in modern Americana with palpable tension. Throughout Bend Beyond, their seventh record, Earl and Woods seem constantly on their verge of implosion. And this tension benefits the songwriting; whereas past Woods tracks sometimes sounded lazy simply because they suffered from an unfocused narrative and direction, the majority of Bend Beyond moves quickly. Only one of the 12 tracks clocks in at over three and a half minutes, and when it does, on the title track, Earl's voice haunts from a place Woods has never ventured. Past records may have been ethereal in scope, but Bend Beyond is their first release that actually follows up on the initial spook.
"Cascade", an instrumental jam pays homage to the Grateful Dead, as many tracks on Bend Beyond do. But by keeping the track concise and letting it punch early, the power of the track is in what it holds back. Earl sings with a confusion and resentment and Woods get behind him. Bend Beyond doesn't so much evolve into a remarkably full listen; it's intensity shows itself immediately.
And as such, whatever band Woods was on past releases is rendered an afterthought.
Minimalist arrangements are traded for the flushed-out. "Impossible Sky" sounds as if it was performed by an entire orchestra in straw-hats. The mesmerizing acoustic shuffle of "It Ain't Easy" brings forth the immediate intimacy of a campfire and "Find Them Empty" calls upon sharp, razor's edge mentality of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. One would be forgiven for calling Earls' relentless approach brazen if you didn't fear for what might come next.
Very often when bands that cut their teeth on relentless jamming leave everything on the table, very little is left for the imagination of the listener to ponder. Bend Beyond however, peaks with intense bursts of energy, elevating this once stoner-friendly three-piece into a strange new world. Too menacing to be called folk and too precise to anymore be called a jam band, Woods is rolling with a newfound sense of poise and concentration.