Archive for Woods

Kevin Morby’s Gorgeous “City Music” Should Blare From Apartment Windows Everywhere

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Some years ago, when contemplating the life I would lead in New York after graduating from a college set in the fields and orchards of Western Mass, I would stare at the jacket of Donald Barthelme’s collection, City Life.  A couple in nightdress, he older and somewhat delirious, she younger and game for the dance, seemed to sum up how much better life would be in the big city.

Yesterday was Bloomsday, which celebrates unquestionably the greatest love song to a city ever written, and of course it was fitting that Kevin Morby released his magisterial new album, City Music. For those late to this story, Morby was the bass player in Woods, and co-bandleader of The Babies, and beginning in 2013, a solo artist whose powers increase record-by-record.  His paean to city life is as heartfelt as Joyce’s, and the respect he pays to certain moments in modern urban history resonates deeply with me.

The title track of last summer’s fine sophomore album, Singing Saw, invoked the magic of  Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food, and on City Music, the sometime-New Yorker invokes Television, Talking Heads, Garland Jeffreys, Lou Reed, and the Ramones, to name just a few of Fun City’s champions. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Dylan’s a New York artist too. Morby doesn’t.

In a lovely NPR piece published yesterday, Morby walks us through the album song by song. It’s worth a read, revealing as it does how this young artist absorbs influences and uses them as inspiration.  He cites “Marquee Moon,” as the source of the title track’s guitar sound, and it’s as fun to listen to as seeing Wilco cover the original by seminal New Yorkers Television.  On Singing Saw, Morby had the benefit of Sam Cohen as producer and a guitarist whose lines take these completely unexpected left turns; the ensemble assembled on City Life is a congenial and accomplished band that you’d love to see live.  Even on the slow songs, they swing.

Morby’s voice isn’t particularly expressive, but his songwriting and storytelling more than make up for it, and his ambitions seem to be growing.  On Singing Saw, songs like “Dorothy” and “I Have Been To The Mountain” were so strong that they masked weaker material elsewhere on an album that was pretty universally acclaimed, including in these here parts.  There’s no such problem on City Music: every song, even the cover of the Germs’ “Caught In My Eye,” will make you want to play this album loud enough to bug the neighbors in your stifling apartment building.

A year ago, when Morby was able to tell the story of how he picked up and moved from Kansas City to Brooklyn, landing a few weeks later in Woods — then and now, a highlight of modern New York bands — the notion of the Bright Lights, Big City luring him from the midwest placed his narrative in familiar terms.  In City Life, he’s made it, he’s gone from the periphery to the center, like Dylan, like Jimmy Reed of Dunleith, Mississippi, who wrote the song, and Jay McInerney of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote the book.

Around the time that we sat in our college dorm dreaming of joining the party in New York, we fixated on another great work of its time, Raymond Sokolov’s Native Intelligence.  The novel begins with the college admissions essay written by a young midwesterner who wants to go to Harvard to participate in the intellectual discussions he imagines exist there.  The opening chapter ends with the admissions officer’s notes, written in longhand in the margins: “Grades, SATs, and high-school recommendations all very high.  We will, of course, accept him, but I think he is going to be disappointed with Harvard and depressed by Radcliffe.  Another case of great expectations in the boondocks.”

Thank Heaven young Kevin Morby got on that bus.

 

 

Kevin Morby’s “Singing Saw”Cuts With A Well-Honed Blade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 22, 2016 by johnbuckley100

When Kevin Morby left Woods right after they produced Bend Beyond, an unqualified masterpiece, it was an expression of confidence as startling as his leaving Kansas City at age 18, heading for the Big Apple on a bus.  Why would you leave the most accomplished, ambitious band in Brooklyn unless you had something to say?  Kevin Morby had something to say.

On two solo albums, 2013’s Harlem River, followed by Still Life one year later, we got a sporadic glimpse of how charming his urban take on alt.country songwriting could be.  Though he later moved from Brooklyn to L.A., on his new one, Singing Saw, he came back east to work with Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine, Yellowbirds)  and now we know just how deeply a sharp blade can cut wood, or if you’re of a certain cast of mind, cut Woods.

On the title track, Morby and his excellent musicians build to what ultimately sounds like an acoustic version of Talking Heads’ “Stay Hungry.”  “I Have Been To The Mountain” punctuates Calexico horns with a Sam Cohen guitar solo that peels the eyeballs. It’s on “Dorothy,” one of those perfect American rock songs that seems to have always existed — Morby just being the medium to wrestle it to tape — that we understand fully why he couldn’t have been content staying within Woods, for as simpatico as he is with Jeremy Earl’s restless musical vision, Morby, like Ron Wood before him, has his own record to do.  And now he’s finally done it: as gorgeous, ambitious, and pleasing an album as you’ll likely play this year.  (Ha! Ron Wood, Woods, cutting wood, singing saw — this album stirs up more than sawdust…)

We don’t know the geography of Brooklyn well enough to geolocate Morby’s position, but we do know Kings County bands well enough to locate his place.  On “Dorothy,” he reveals a debt to Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houk and his brilliance in hijacking the sound of Willie Nelson’s band and applying it to modern Americana.  On “Ferris Wheel,” it’s a different Brooklyn band that springs to mind — Damon McMahon’s Amen Dunes.  Yes, good company to keep… Woods, Calexico, Phosphorescent, Amen Dunes.  Did we mention Bob Dylan?

Placing Morby in the context of these other artists is meant only to give the uninitiated the coordinates of where to place his music on this brilliant album.  Given how banner advertising supporting Singing Saw has begun to stalk us on such expensive sites as the NewYorkTimes.com, we get the sense that the uninitiated to Morby will be fewer by weeks end. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate.  A young songwriter of impeccable pedigree has produced the work that will make his name.

On Widowspeak’s “All Yours,” The Sugar High Is Gone

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 17, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Two instruments vie for notice in Widowspeak’s music — Molly Hamilton’s pretty, ethereal voice and Robert Earl Thomas’s canny, spare guitar.  We have raved about their earlier work, but also worried that what Hamilton and Thomas too often deliver yields a sugar high.  Earlier work has been short on the gritty substance needed to sustain interest, not just over the long haul, but over a single album.  And yet, from the moment early in the summer that we heard “Girls,” a standout track on their recently released All Yours, it was clear that Widowspeak have matured into the fine band they have promised to be ever since the release of their initial, Jarvis Tavaniere-produced album.

The connection to Woods goes beyond Tavaniere, as All Yours reportedly comprises Hamilton and Thomas recording with Woods’ rhythm section in bucolic Columbia County.  Emigrants from Brooklyn, the couple have removed themselves from the hipsters’ paradise and by the banks of the Hudson produced their best music yet.  There were moments on Almanac, their second record, that were magical, but it was too often a cloying confection.  On All Yours, the songwriting is strong, the singing is gorgeous without being thinner than air, and Thomas’s guitar work shows lean muscle mass.  Think of the best tracks Syd Straw cut with The Golden Paliminos, Neko Case singing with the Mekons.  This is one dream pop album that sticks in your head even as the substance sticks to your ribs.

White Fence Takes Top Honors On The 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Robert Christgau famously wrote that Dylan’s The Basement Tapes was the best album of 1975, and would have been the best album of 1967, too, if it had been released the year it was recorded.  It goes without saying that if The Basement Tapes Complete were not a 47-year old document, it would have topped the 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c).

But it would be unfair to trump the excellent albums released this year with one of rock’s classics, released as it was from the vapors of the past.  And this year there were many excellent records vying for top honors.  Thee Oh Sees missed our list because it was a transition year for John Dwyer, and as much as we enjoyed Drop, recording without the band that made Floating Coffin such a delight was a disappointment.  Asteroid #4 eponymous release was in contention, but just missed.  There were some other close calls, competition was tight, but in the end, we think this is a pretty good list for you to scratch out and leave for Santa to find.

#10: Maui Tears by Sleepy Sun

Back in February, we wrote this:

Maui Tears is constructed along the blueprint specs that Stephen McBean used in Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart: there’s tuneful, exciting, straight-ahead rock’n’roll (“The Lane”) followed by acoustic balladry you might have found on early Led Zep, and then immersion into the headphone imperatives of metal-psyche. “Outside” is, for our money, a better version of MBV than anything found on m b v. “11:32″ is a mere 4:10 worthy of punk-metal goodness, and on “Thielbar” you can catch a whiff of Black Rebel Motorcycle exhaust and it smells like… victory.”

Eight months later it still holds.

#9: Ganglion Reef by Wand

In late September, we wrote this:

Ganglion Reef, the 35-minute long debut album by L.A.’s Wand is sonic DMT, a short, intense trip you can take on your lunch break and return to work with a slightly loopy smile on your face. The best psychedelica, like the best punk, always had a gooey core of pop music at its center, catchy melodies being just as important — maybe more important, given the heavy winds the music otherwise generates — than anything aimed right at radio programmers. And so it is with Wand, a band that can appeal to anyone who made a mixtape including both Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Even after powering through sludgy riffs that seem like a bulldozer plowing a highway in the Mariana Trench, they shift to some sweet-sounding harmonies bristling with hooks.”

#8: Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers

We never actually wrote about Brill Bruisers, which comes about as close as we ever do to the mainstream.  For even though they qualify as Alt something or other, The New Pornographers are a big band, big following, no lack of critical attention.  When we saw them in November, it confirmed that Brill Brusiers was as good as Challengers, which we loved, though not as good as Twin Cinemas, of course.  How they do it — how they create completely polyester pop when what we love is all natural fibers is a miracle to behold.  And that’s what The New Pornos are, circa 2014.

#7 With Light And With Love by Woods

Having given Bend Beyond a #1 ranking in 2012, it was hard to see how Woods could top what was, we said then, a perfect album.  But here’s how we viewed this glorious record when it came in the spring:

“What’s different here is evident from the start, wherein album opener “Shepherd” has a pedal steel and Nicky Hopkins piano sound, a postcard from whatever country locale Woods has arrived in, far out of town and in touch with their Flying Burrito Brothers. We suppose that Woods — a Brooklyn band that records Upstate — has a shorter distance to travel than Darker My Love did when they veered into chiming ’60s country rock with Alive As You Are ( another Perfect Album that took Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year honors. And in fact, Tim Presley plays on this ‘un.) The country vibe sure is lovely, but better yet comes the Dylanesque “Leaves Like Glass,” whose instrumentation sounds like the tape was left rolling during the Blonde On Blonde sessions. We would dare anyone to listen to “Twin Steps” and not immediately plan on proceeding, with the missionary zeal of a programmed zombie, to catch this band live. And while the 9:07 title track sums up this band’s virtuosity and complexity in spades, it’s “Moving To The Left” that harkens, ironically, to the right of the radio dial, where in a perfect world it would remain, being played over and over throughout the summer months.”

#6 Dean Wareham by Dean Wareham

A solo album released by one of our heroes produced the pleasure we anticipated, and live with Britta, playing songs from Galaxie 500 and Luna, not to mention Dean and Britta and New Order, made this year a great moment to take stock of one of pop culture’s treasures.  Add to this the many interviews Warham sat for and the writing he published, and he added to the sum  of life’s pleasures.

Here’s what we wrote in March:

Dean Wareham is produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and it is an old-fashioned, two-sided LP. Yes, of course, it’s a digital download and a CD, but it is structured pretty much as two distinct sides. Something that has always been hard to reconcile is Wareham’s admiration both for the songwriting of his friend Lou Reed and his taste for Glen Campbell. Yes, you read that right. But on his solo album, the softer first side and the harder-hitting second half for the first time make these seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his musical personality make sense. We have spent years culling our favorite songs from Luna albums onto play lists, which assumes also that there are songs we leave behind. But this is an album you can play all the way through, enjoying everything.

It really takes off in the album’s final 25 minutes, beginning with the breathtaking “Holding Pattern,” but we can’t imagine dropping the first side’s songs out of any playlist. “Babes In The Woods” finishes with a structure those who loved “Friendly Advice” from Luna’s live shows will surely recognize, and both versions of “Happy & Free” will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s spent the evening driving with Galaxie 500 or Luna on the tape deck.”

#5 Held In Splendor by Quilt

We played this record so often when it came out, we literally couldn’t listen to it again until recently.  Listening to it confirms what we believed when it was released in the spring: Quilt is a patchwork of sonic delight.

Here’s what we wrote in March:

“Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski were art-school students when they formed Quilt at the dawn of the Obama years, and we bet their teachers shook their heads in dismay when they veered into music. For the rest of us, art school’s loss is our earbuds’ gain as angels dance around guitar and keyboard weirdness that can call to mind both Magic Trick and the Magic Castles in the span of a single song. Where Widowspeak lacks fiber, Quilt has just enough bulk to maintain a consistent weight. Held In Splendor is wonderfully produced, weird in the way Prince Rupert’s Drops are weird, thrilling in the way Woods are thrilling. Yeah, this is a good ‘un, and we’ll just state the obvious: if these guys really were from the late ’60s Bay Area, Altamont would never have happened, and by 2014 the land would be harmonious and we’d all be happy vegans. ‘Course, they’re in the here and now, and so you have the chance to hear ‘em now.”

#4 Manipulator by Ty Segall

We were a little disappointed when Manipulator came out, and then we realized we were behaving like an asshole.  Having chided Segall three years ago for not getting serious about putting down an album that could capture the music that would make him the hugest star, when the guy recorded a commercial masterpiece, we wrote, essentially, why isn’t he continuing to make songs just for us?  Yeah, we were wrong.

But we were right in this:

“On the title track, on songs like “It’s Over” and “Feel,” the magic is there. Oh brother, is it there. We exult in it, and hope those listening for the first time — and we suspect millions will — are moved by this ‘un to press the music wide-eyed on all their friends and family, and then go explore the earlier, rawer albums, and the associated recs by Thee Oh Sees and White Fence that have been made better by the knowledge that Ty was out back, recording his new one in a cheap and scuzzy garage.”

#3 V Is For Vaselines by The Vaselines

The Vaselines make us happy.  What more needs to be said.

Oh yeah, here’s how we first responded to this amazing album:

“And now comes V For Vaselines, the tightest, likely the most tuneful album of punk rock since Rocket To Russia, an album that if listened to on the Delta Shuttle (true story) provokes such aisle seat joy that cross aisle neighbors stare before you realize you are snapping your fingers and possibly singing along. Eugene and Frances have never sung better, the propulsive drumming is more infectious than Ebola, and the whole album swings. We wake in the middle of the night with “Crazy Lady” being powered through the Marshall amps inside our mind, and when we say that this song — actually, the whole album — reminds us of I (Heart) The Mekons, we of course are offering the highest praise. “Earth Is Speeding” is a reminder of what could have happened if Roxy Music, in 1977, had hopped on the punk rock bandwagon. Lovers once upon a time, adult collaborators these days, Kelly and McKee have literally never sounded better than they do on “Number One Crush,” with its great lyrical premise of tongue-tied love (“Being with you/Kills my IQ).”

#2 Revelation by The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Anton Newcombe’s career revival continued in 2014, and continues to this minute, as the just-released +-E.P. is even better than the two albums BJM have released in the past two years.  A successful European tour and his Twitter feed are just further indications that one of rock’s true geniuses is, at this point in his life, taking on a Dylan-esque late phase creative flowering, a metaphor we used when we wrote about Revelation last summer:

Revelation, which officially comes out tomorrow but happily was available to download last night, is so good, we wonder if it might be the Love and Theft to Aufheben‘s Time Out Of Mind, a portent not just of a return to greatness after a less-than-great creative patch, but an indicator that Newcombe’s best work, like Dylan’s, might someday be understood to have been made when his youth was behind him — to be not what he produced when he was a young and brash punk, but what came after a hard-earned perspective. I mean, there were days when few people might have expected Anton would be around to make an album in 2014 — but to discover that he’s produced one of the best albums of his career? Yeah, it’s got the right name: Revelation.

The album begins wonderfully, with the Swedish rocker “Vad Hande Med Dem” giving way to the Kurt Vile-ish “What You Isn’t.” By the time we get to “Memory Camp,” it doesn’t matter which members of the large tribe that have variously performed as BJM are playing behind Anton, it doesn’t matter that we’re in Berlin, not California, no other band or set of musicians — not even ones like the Morning After Girls who worshipped the sticky ground on which Anton walked — could produce a Brian Jonestown Massacre album half as good as this. By the time we got to “Food For Clouds,” we were grinning ear to ear. At “Memorymix,” we were ready to take the day off and just hole up, having committed to memory the phone number to the Dominos delivery folks. By “Xibalba” we were dancing around the house.”

#1 For The Recently Found Innocent by White Fence

We loved this record from the moment we heard it, and have played it on an almost daily basis since August.  We are so pleased to welcome Tim Presley back — yes, back — to the cherished #1 rank on Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 List.  We can’t describe it better today than we did then:

“We knew what Presley could do, not just because his band Darker My Love released Tulip Frenzy’s #1 album in 2010, Alive As You Are. And in 2012, Presley and Segall collaborated on Hair, which qualified as no less than that year’s 2nd best album. And then, after we complained for what seems like ever that we wished Presley would get out of the bedroom and take his talents to a proper studio and record with a proper band, not to mention straighten up and comb his hair etc., he closed out the year with a live masterpiece — White Fence’s Live In San Francisco, which made our Top Ten List(c). What a hootenanny that one is! Maybe the best punk rock record of the last five years! You could hear John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees chortling at the knobs, as he recorded Presley in all his barrre-chord glory. And now we can hear the impact of his friend Ty Segall, who plays drums and produces what is already apparent as the best batch of White Fence cookies to come out of the oven. Ever.

Whether he’s an introvert, or just likes the freedom of recording at home, the intervention by friends Dwyer and Segall to get Tim Presley to share with the world a better sounding version of the magic that takes place the moment he picks up a guitar is surely welcomed. We are done comparing Presley to Kurtz, gone up the river. On For The Recently Found Innocent he has brought his jangly guitar, his reverence for early Who and Kinks dynamics, his fondness for psychedelic chords, wispy vocals, the patchouli ambience… brought it all to a studio where Mr. Segall himself plays drums and marshals the Dolby hiss fighters to render this in damn near high fi!”

Parquet Courts’ “Sunbathing Animal” Is Out, And Summer May Now Commence

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on June 4, 2014 by johnbuckley100

When Parquet Courts play, we’re transported to a distant time when the best rock’n’roll in the world emanated not from Brooklyn, but Lower Manhattan.  They know this — they are very self-aware — and they play their 1970s Television roots to a fare-thee-well.  For a band of primitives, Parquet Courts know precisely what they’re doing.  And it is glorious.

They kick off the spankin’ new Sunbathing Animal with “Bodies Made Of,” and we are immediately in the hypnotic two-guitar grip of Lloyd and Verlaine playing “See No Evil,” with the underlying riff of “96 Tears” adding a garage-band reference to the ur-punk swing.  By the time we get to “Dear Ramona,” we have a magical invocation of Frank Black’s “Ramona” and Television’s “Venus,” replete with the dumb-boy glee-club and its “huh?” chorus.  And it just gets better from there, songs of a minute-thirty length alternating with seven-minute opi.

Parquet Courts do what the most thrilling punk bands of the late ’70s routinely effected, a gambit to which so few bands since then have been able to pull off: they play with such utter authority within their limitations that you can’t figure out whether they are genuinely constrained or art-school geniuses slumming on a project.  They manage to be raw and thrilling one moment, pretty and beguiling the next, and they understand the weight of a broader cohort of songs — a live set, an album — in which they can power through skronk and immediately return with the most melodic tune, picked out by the two guitarists (Andrew Savage and Austin Brown) who play with such consonance you would swear they are a pop band in secret.  If it could be said — yeah, we said it — that Wire was a band that was always at their most interesting just when their reach exceeded their grasp, let us state here that Parquet Courts are both conceptually ambitious but also seemingly in control: they pull off that magic trick where it seems they are playing beyond their ability, but really that’s all  just part of the act.  Or maybe the act is to make it seem like it’s part of the act — the very asking of that question giving an indication of their conceptual intelligence.  There may be no more thrilling punk band in the world today.

The spoken-voice “singing”probably seals Parquet Courts’ commercial fate, or at least it would if we were living in an era where radio mattered.  In a Spotify playlist world, it is possible these guys are inches away from global domination.  We just don’t know.  What we do know is that when Light Up Gold, their first widely released album, came out at the end of 2012, we immediately placed it in the 2013 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c).  We know that when we saw them live last summer with Woods, we felt the warm wash of nostalgia flushed by the excitement of discovering something wholly new.  We know that with Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts have released an album that will induce sophomores at Brown to drop out en masse, their move to Williamsburg inspired by just this one thing.

Even though Parquet Courts should be seen in a beery fog of a thrashing crowd, feet all sticking to the parquet floor, their new ‘un is an album all the coolest sunbathing animals will play through ear buds, while the summer sun beats down on the tar roofs of Brooklyn, the beaches of Saint Tropez.  Better reach for the Coppertone, as the finest band plying the Austin-Brooklyn axis keeps you riveted to their 14-song revelation.

Quilt And Woods At The Rock & Roll Hotel Were More Like Rock & Roll Heaven

Posted in Music with tags , , , on April 27, 2014 by johnbuckley100

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Quilt, Leica C

It wasn’t accidental that two bands that each have produced one of the best albums released so far in 2014 played last night at D.C.’s Rock & Roll Hotel, for Quilt and Woods are, at present, joined like family members.  Woods’ Jason Taveniere produced Quilt’s second album, Held In Splendor, and on this tour at least, Quilt drummer John Andrews plays organ with Woods.  They have more kin connections than a village in West Virginia, and the show last night was one long stream of gorgeous melodies, guitar wizardry, a solid backbeat, and the occasional psychedelic rave-up.

Quilt wrapped us in Held In Splendor, their warm and radio-ready platter o’ harmonic convergence punctuated by intricate pop finger picking and gritty power chords.  Anna Fox Rochinski is a lyrical lead guitarist and an understated, somewhat shy front-woman, but when she and Shane Butler matched their vocal interplay with guitar fire, it brought to mind favorite two-guitar bands like Luna, the Soft Boys, even Television.  Quilt’s sound is jangling ’60s pop with three-part harmonies contained within the parameters of garage, folk, and psychedelica, which is pretty great territory to ply.  In fact, their new album is desert isle material, and the set last night proved they can do it live every bit as powerfully as in the studio.

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Quilt, Leica C, via the Rock & Roll Hotel’s mirror.

 

The crowd’s reaction to the best songs — “Mary Mountain,” “Just Dust,” “Tired & Buttered” — proclaims Quilt has, by their sophomore outing, established themselves as one of a handful of American bands worth tracking as they rise to what, should the cosmic order be proven, can only be inevitable world conquest.

Since the release a few weeks ago of  Woods’ With Light And Lovewe’ve concluded it is every bit the equal to Bend Beyond, which some will remember we called 2012’s best album, and even more than that: an absolutely perfect record. It should go without saying, this is a hard feat to pull off once, never mind twice.  But With Light And Love is astonishing — even prettier than its predecessor, and last night, despite a bad sound mix from the club, Woods revealed just what a treasure they’ve become.

Quiltwoods3

Woods, Leica C

The new bass player, Chuck Van Dyke, steps well into Kevin Morby’s shoes, and with Quilt’s John Andrews playing organ throughout, Woods’ sound had an emollient undercurrent that was as surprising as it was delightful.  They started out with “Leaves Like Glass,” which on the album sounds like an outtake from a mythic Dylan set and last night sounded like it was a jam in Memphis’ Ardent Studios. Jeremy Earl played acoustic through the early songs, including “Cali in a Cup,” but it was later in the set, when he had strapped on his electric guitar to play two of the highlights from the new album — “Moving To The Left” and “Twin Steps” — that it became clear how, even as amazing an album as Bend Beyond was, With Light And Love takes a giant step into the commercial mainstream, which we mean as a compliment.  They played the title tracks to both recent albums, which means 20 combined minutes of getting your head scalped, and we survived the pyrotechnics, a groggy smile on our putzes.  But it’s where Woods now confidently step into well-crafted pop songs that perhaps the band’s hidden ambitions begin to see the light.

A clue to the ground they currently occupy can be found on the sequencing on the new album of the songs “Full Moon” and “Only The Lonely.” On the former, Jason Taveniere plays George Harrison-inflected slide, and the latter is the title of a different Roy Orbison song.  Are they trying to emulate The Traveling Willburys?  No, they’re still a Brooklyn-based band of artisanal pop craft, still weird and wooly, though it could be said that invoking Roy Orbison is one way of placing Jeremy Earl’s astonishing voice, his high plains croon, in a more recognizable context.

We’ve seen Woods three times in 18 months.  In November 2012, when they played across the street at the old Red Palace, it was like seeing Sun Ra come back to Earth, fireworks going off in the mind.  Last night, with a new bass player and the sound of an organ ladling sweet honey on the guitars, the band was every bit as remarkable, but in a way that those with less adventuresome tastes could relate.

How delightful it is to see two so great bands in a club with a couple of hundred souls.  It’s only because of the injustice of life that we would see these bands on the H Street corridor and not downtown at the Verizon Center.  Optimists that we are, we think both bands will get there.

 

Woods’ “With Light And Love” Bends Just Slightly Beyond Their Prior Masterpiece

Posted in Music with tags , , on April 16, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Last time out, in 2012, Woods’ Bend Beyond shocked the Western world when it beat out Ty Segall to take Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Year honors.  Maybe their amazing show at DC’s Red Palace helped sway the judges.  But as we noted then, Bend Beyond was one of those mythical Perfect Albums, as rare as a pitcher’s Perfect Game, with an astonishing sound and not a note out of place.

We saw them again in the summer of 2013, and they gave hints at what a good album With Light And Love, released this week, would turn out to be.  It is a bright, confident follow up to a masterpiece, and there is no let down, no disappointment.  Does that automatically make it, too, a masterpiece?  Not necessarily, though it means we have come to expect the extraordinary with Woods, and they seem perfectly at ease in delivering it.

With Aaron Neveu now a full-fledged member of the band, and we presume that’s Kevin Morby on bass — their photo on the Woodsist website does not have Morby, whose excellent solo album, Harlem River, was released late last year, but we think that’s him — the twin-guitar sound of Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Tavaniere continues to ply the line between the best Topanga Canyon 12-string chimes and the sonic-rocket-to-the-moon psychedelia for which their lives shows are so notable.  And Jeremy Earl’s voice continues to be a sui generis marvel, causing Robert Plant, Al Green, and the Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 to all stand back, their mouths agape.

What’s different here is evident from the start, wherein album opener “Shepherd” has a pedal steel and Nicky Hopkins piano sound, a postcard from whatever country locale Woods has arrived in, far out of town and in touch with their Flying Burrito Brothers.  We suppose that Woods — a Brooklyn band that records Upstate — has a shorter distance to travel than Darker My Love did when they veered into chiming ’60s country rock with Alive As You Are ( another Perfect Album that took Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year honors.  And in fact, Tim Presley plays on this ‘un.) The country vibe sure is lovely, but better yet comes the Dylanesque “Leaves Like Glass,” whose instrumentation sounds like the tape was left rolling during the Blonde On Blonde sessions. We would dare anyone to listen to “Twin Steps” and not immediately plan on proceeding, with the missionary zeal of a programmed zombie, to catch this band live.  And while the 9:07 title track sums up this band’s virtuosity and complexity in spades, it’s “Moving To The Left” that harkens, ironically, to the right of the radio dial, where in a perfect world it would remain, being played over and over throughout the summer months.

This doesn’t mean we expect Woods to storm the record charts.  We’re both realistic and at completely at odds with the way hits are manufactured to by this time have hope that a band this fine will be properly rewarded in this lifetime.  We should note, however, that there is not an insurmountable difference between With Light And Love and a Broken Bells record; we could actually imagine a radio programmer listening to “Moving To The Left” and being inspired to do the right thing, his corporate masters notwithstanding.

Perhaps, you say, it is too much to expect that even a band that creates Perfect Albums can rally the masses.  Perhaps we should think of Woods like that restaurateur that has foodies flock from across the globe to eat in his 32-seat epicurean marvel, the strange combination of sea urchins and wholesome grains utterly beguiling, with a smallish but knowing army of disciples certain they’ve discovered something special, even if it would be hard to get everyone to understand.

No, we reject that concept.  Woods are a marvel, worthy of superstardom, and if you’ve yet to understand this, start here, With Light and Love.

And go see them next weekend, with Quilt, at The Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C.

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