Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Actually Like: Woods (with a few reservations)

Had I not been looking for new (non-rap) music to write about, I might have written off Woods as yet another band making shambling, slightly off center psychedelic rock music that's basically just ripping off Neil Young's Zuma. But I like lead singer Jeremy Earl's voice. Michael Hansen, from the great blog Decibel Tolls, describes it as "Elliott Smith experiencing zipper troubles" and I don't think I can come up with a better description. Pitchfork compares his voice to Neil Young, but Earl's voice is far wimpier. Though Woods play a similar form of backwoods psych to former labelmates (on Fuck It Tapes, the label the band themselves founded) MV and EE (Matt Valentine and Erika Elder), Earl's voice is far more melodious than Valentine's verging-on-atonal whine. 

The song Pitchfork posted, "Rain On," off their new LP Songs of Shame, is a pleasant, folksy psych-rock song, saved from mediocrity by Earl's voice. The way his falsetto keeps pressing against its limit on the verses brings the focus where it should be: on the sound of his voice, rather than what's he's saying. The circular guitar line on the chorus acts a cool sort of answer to Earl's vocals too. "Gypsy Hand," also off Songs of Shame, has a slightly annoying sing-song melody and foolishly buries Earl's falsetto, making me worry "Rain On" might be the only Woods song I'll ever like.

Songs of Shame, and the band's previous album, Rear House, have both been released in limited edition tape form, and I'm wondering if I would appreciate the band more in that crackly, analog format than on CD. The Fuck It Tapes aesthetic and the whole idea of still, in this day and age, putting music on tapes, is about the way the archaic sound quality changes the music itself. Like the way DJ Screw can make a cliched C-Bo song about riding around the hood in his car haunting and poignant just by slowing it down, layers of tape hiss and compression can be both a comment on more established forms of music ( like I talked about here with Wavves) and a distancing tool, allowing for new and different ways of hearing song forms we've all heard thousands of times before.

Of course, this begs the question, which has come up concerning Wavves, if songs need fucked up production values to be interesting, are they really good songs at all? I don't really agree with this kind of thinking, but by suggesting Woods would sound better on tape, I'm wondering if I'm lending some truth to that kind of criticism.