A slight step out of the comfort zone from Brooklyn's Woods, one of indie rock's most reliable and steady voices
With nine albums in ten years, Brooklyn’s Woods are nothing if not prolific. Anchored in low-key, folk-influenced rhythms focused around singer Jeremy Earl’s airy vocals, the band puts out quality work that projects thoughtful and measured reflection rather than a rushed and harried focus that their proclivity for output may suggest. Keeping a consistent tone, despite a somewhat revolving door of band members, has been one of Woods’ hallmarks. Rarely have their recordings veered too far from the folk-indie template, and rarely do they misstep their bounds by venturing into territory far from their wheelhouse. It’s a format that has served the band well. Other than difficulty in distinguishing which song comes from which album, their music possesses a near-excellent quality that effortlessly sparks attention and interest without overstretching its welcome.
City Sun Eater in the River of Light, is the rather cumbersome title of their latest release, dropped as always on the band’s own appropriately titled Woodsist label. Its ten tracks are presented with a minimal amount of fuss, forgoing any semblance of the trippy loops or psych freak-outs that have revealed themselves from time to time with their prior oeuvre. What’s noticeable, however, is an attempt to play around a little with the formula. Some new wrinkles pop up in certain corners of the album; some that really work and some that could benefit from a little bit of redirection.
First, there’s a little layer of soul. Horns blaze through the background of album opener, Sun City Creeps”, Stax-like keys anchor “Creature Comfort”, and bouncy, propulsive drumming rocks “”Politics of Free”. “Can’t See at All” takes this motif even further as the nearly five-minute track bubbles along on a slick and funky reggae beat. It’s a nice sidestep for a band that maybe occasionally trades out some of their Grateful Dead records for some Bob Marley or Sly Stone ones. Conversely, there’s also some menace found lurking between the grooves. A spooky ambience clouds the duration of “Hang It On Your Wall” while “I See In The Dark” plays like the accompanying track to a tense police chase scene in a film or television series.
Woods’ attempts at dabbling out of character are admirable and applause worthy. You never want to get stuck in a rut or labeled strictly as purveyors of the same. However, it would have been interesting to see them go even a bit further in their pursuit of something bolder. A couple of tracks beg for a bit more jamming to round out the endings or to pad the midsection. And, though, he’s always been the vocalist, Earl could maybe benefit from a second lead voice to help bring some of their genre exercises to full fruition. The aforementioned “Can’t See at All” would sound even stronger with a backing chorus echoing the chorus and refrain.
Like kindred spirits Blitzen Trapper and Real Estate, Woods are a well-oiled touring machine, traveling far and wide to perform tunes that are eagerly received by their adoring fan bases. The rub lies in the environment, though. The rooms tend to stay the same size, and the faces tend to likely look familiar from the vantage point of the stage. These are true working bands that make a solid living playing to their respective corners of the indie rock universe. While this cycle certainly serves as a success story-after all, so many bands never make it past the local garage or dive bar-it also tends to lower the ceiling and puts Woods in a tricky predicament. Make a record like this one, and it generally brings in solid reviews and keeps the fans pleased. Choosing to take a hard detour and galloping down a more offbeat path, though, carries risk. The bands that have reached the status in which they control their own destiny are few and far between. Woods haven’t quite carved that spot out but they have put in enough quality work to earn the right to play with the formula. There are glimpses of risk here and there on City Sun Eater but a few more curveballs could really be the remedy that brings home a larger reward.