PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Woods: With Light and With Love

With Light and With Love is Woods' most cleanly produced record to date, and the brittle edges of their sound now melt around bright, bittersweet songs.


Woods

With Light and With Love

US Release: 2014-04-15
Label: Woodsist
UK Release: 2014-04-14
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

There's something in the consistency of Woods' records that makes the band difficult to talk about. It's hard because the draw of these songs -- ramshackle acoustics, Jeremy Earl's honeyed falsetto, tangled yet sunkissed hooks, and experimental edge -- are easy to spot, but the overall, often fascinating effect of these elements is tougher to pin down. There's something you can't quite put your finger on, even if the feeling these dusty songs give is deeply textured.

But that consistency rarely registers as repetition. 2011's Sun and Shade followed At Echo Lake, the band's most consistent record to date, and blew the doors open with more experimental jam pieces than we'd heard on one record from Woods before. Their next record, Bend Beyond scraped some of the lo-fi fuzz off the top, and in its newfound clarity sounded more earthen than dusty, more swampy than sweaty. It was a more muscled version of the kind of folk-rock the band has been, by degrees, making its own over the past near-decade.

With Light and With Love continues both the consistency and the progress forward. It is, first and foremost, the band's most cleanly produced record to date, and the brittle edges of their sound melt sweetly as a result. It puts Earl's voice higher up in the mix and it shows an impressive strength, even as it retains its ethereal quality. And the band sounds full here -- organs, guitars, bass, drum, and vocals rising together and converging into a muscled sort of fragility. The sound of this record is capable of washing over you or splashing you in the face, and both are invigorating.

The production here often plays up the country influences that clung to the fringes of earlier records. Opener "Shepherd" is full of swaying pedal steel and crisp acoustic strumming. "Leaves Like Grass" is a big country rocker, full of muddy hooks and deep, shuffling percussion, while "Full Moon" takes these elements and twists them into country AM-gold, falling somewhere between the Allmans and the outlaws. These songs are foundational, laying the groundwork for the varied set of sounds that tangent off of them. There's the overcast rumble of "Moving to the Left", driven by humming bass lines, running up against the sunburst-folk of "New Light", a syrupy tune haunted by guitar lines that run backwards. Organs render "Only the Lonely" white bright, even as Earl's vocals lilt sadly, while those same organs throw an overcast pall over the surf-rock riffs of "Shining".

Light and dark clash often in these songs -- Earl sings often of light directly -- and nowhere is this more apparent than the title track. The song runs for nine minutes and serves as a sort of centerpiece for the record. It takes the band's love of experimental jams and ties them to Woods' constantly re-sharpened knack for songcraft. The results are brilliant. Earl strings lines together in puzzling ways, playing with enjambments to keep us guessing. "Death brings a ghost," he sings, "with light and with love, / Tell me what to do." Now whether he wants to know what to do with the ghost or with the light and love is hard to tell. But the confusion is enlightening in that it ties into some major themes in the record. It's helpful that the middle of this song falls into frustrated, clustered-up guitar solos that eventually straighten themselves out into assured, even swaggering hooks. When the chorus comes back in, Earl's worry ("Coming on strong / Don't know what to do") suddenly sounds like freedom. The ghost feels far off, the light and the love ever closer.

And so the album deals in leaving the past behind and embracing some sort of present. The light is now, something to hide the shadows, and if the past isn't quite done with us in these songs, it's at least held at bay. Earl seems to know that as laid-back and breezy as the present sounds here, it's hardly easy. "Is it enough to unwind?" he wonders on "Leaves Like Grass", giving us another moment of double meaning where we can wonder if Earl means he's left enough behind to relax in the here and now, or if a life of unwinding is enough to sustain a person. The freedom of leaving the past behind still leaves us confronting a tomorrow that "comes too soon", with the next thing.

Yet Woods feels content here, and With Light and With Love strikes a complicated, rewarding balance between the grip of the past and the possibility of, if not the future, than at least the now. The band's recent album titles have always suggested both the natural and the astral -- At Echo Lake, Sun and Shade, even Bend Beyond to an extent -- and if With Light and With Love presents as more abstract, it plays just as organic (sometimes more so) than its predecessors. There's a risk of exposure in the kind of clear production this album provides, especially for a band with a historically gauzy sound, but the risk yields high reward here. Turns out that on this album you get to hear Woods in perhaps the purest form yet, even as you know that form will change again for the next record. Until then, embrace the bittersweet now.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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