Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Woods "With Light and With Love" - Review

2014 has been a pretty good year for psych influenced rock with excellent albums from both Quilt and Real Estate. However with its jangling guitars and well crafted songs with brilliant tunes, the new Woods album leaves both behind.

With Light and With Love is the band's 8th album and follows on from the band's previous two superb CDs Sun and Shade and Bend Beyond both of which were chockablock with 3 minute pop wonders. Sun and Shade even had a couple of lengthy psychedelically inclined instrumentals which showed the band had an experimental side which could also impress.

What differentiates With Light and With Love from their previous outings is the sound. It is their best recorded album to date and a long way from their lo-fi beginnings. It has a much richer sonic palate and places Jeremy Earl’s high fragile voice much better in the fuller sounding mix. The drum sound is thicker and colour is added through varied use of keyboards, backward tape effects and on opening track Shepherd even a pedal steel guitar.

Shepherd opens the album in a bright and breezy but somewhat unexpected style. Reminiscent of the Grateful Dead on American Beauty or Workingman's Dead it sees the band now pushing forward into countrified territory.

Second track Shining leads us back into the familiar Woods soundscape - shimmering guitars (is that a 12 string?) and catchy choruses - and successfully maintains the direction of the previous albums.

However just as soon as we think we've  found our place on the map we are launched off into the 9 minute long title track With Light and With Love. Previous lengthy excursions Out Of The Eye and Sol Y Sombra seemed to attempt to merge the repetition of Krautrockers Neu with the psychedelic spaghetti western trippiness of Quicksilver Messenger Service (and for me both really worked but they did tend to give the Sun and Shade album a slightly disjointed feel), however this is much more of a structured "song" with an extended guitar work-out. It features some spiky guitar riffs, occasionally reminiscent of Roger McGuinn in the Byrds Eight Miles High era, over a kind of fast shuffling rhythm. There are several shifts of pace and intensity and it rocks like the clappers. I really like it. Though I can't help thinking that most bands would have put this at the end of the album as a kind of grand finale but here we are still on track 3 of a 10 track album...

This is definitely a peak and one wonders how the band are going to follow it up but the track cuts / segues quite brilliantly into Moving To The Left and the pace, quality and momentum is maintained. This is shaping up like a classic album.

Next track New Light starts with backward tape loops and an acoustic intro. A nice thick drum sound kicks in over Earl's plaintive voice and its "Your only hope for tomorrow is starting anew... May we all sleep tonight" refrain would make it an excellent ending to a brilliant side 1 if you are listening on vinyl.

For me this suite of songs makes for the most varied, consistent and exhilarating 20 minutes on a Woods album so far. Can they keep it up for the rest of album?

I'm not sure the 2nd half matches up to the sonic fireworks of the first but it does get off to a strong start with Leaves Like Glass which features a delicious swirling mid 60s Dylanesque organ sound and comes over like some obscure single from around 1969. The next couple of tracks have a distinct Beatles influence. Twin Steps is mid-paced rocker with an acid style wah-wah tinged solo over a riff and a feel that bring to mind Revolver. The guitar on Full Moon seems to be a bit of a nod to George Harrison and Rubber Soul. Maybe too much. For me the riff here is a bit too obvious in its source and the song seems to verge on pastiche.

Last 2 tracks Only The Lonely and acoustic ballad Feather Man bid us a subdued farewell and, with a disembodied voice intoning over a tolling bell, the album suddenly cuts to a close. There is a slight air of lassitude towards the end of the album but Feather Man probably does make for a better ending than the mammoth With Light and With Love. Perhaps the grand finale is now too much of a rock cliche after all.

This album sees the band maturing, better recorded and on occasion sounding like a mainstream "rock" band but still pushing forward and trying out new ideas - eg Shepherd and With Light and With Love. However I'm not sure it's as strong as its predecessor Bend Beyond - it lacks that album's classic 3 minute pop song sensibility. Nearly every track on that album could have been a single. That's not true here. But having done catchy folk-rock singles to perfection maybe that is what they now want to leave behind. This album builds on the tradition of previous Woods albums and maintains the qualities of melody, musical exploration and good-time cheeriness that the band deliver so well. This is optimistic, warm and welcoming music for which, in this day and age, one should be grateful. Either way this a very strong album indeed. My favourite of the year so far and the first half a dozen songs here are some of the best music the band has ever recorded.

With Light and With Love
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Formats: CD/LP/CS/DL

  1. Shepherd
  2. Shining
  3. With Light and With Love
  4. Moving to the Left
  5. New Light
  6. Leaves Like Glass
  7. Twin Steps
  8. Full Moon
  9. Only the Lonely
  10. Feather Man
Jeremy Earl - Singer / Guitarist
Jarvis Taveniere - Multi-instrumentalist
Aaron Neveu - Drums
John Andrews - Piano / Organ

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