PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
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 and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


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.