Quartet brings back psychedelic folk music

April 17, 2014

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For fans of the Brooklyn indie rock quartet Woods, a new year most often signals a new album. Since their debut in 2006, the band has put out solid releases annually on singer-guitarist Jeremy Earl’s independent label Woodsist, with the exception of 2008, when the band recorded their breakout LP,   “Songs of Shame,” which came out the next year.

When 2013 went by without any new material, it felt uncharacteristic of the typically punctilious band. As it turns out, Woods was busy spending almost two years perfecting “With Light And With Love,” its seventh and most polished album release to date.

“With Light” is, as with every recent release from Woods, a consistent collection of neo-psychedelic folk rock songs. In press releases, the band described the album as featuring “singing saw, heavier emphasis on percussion, and a saloon piano.”

The saloon vibe is perhaps best felt on opening track “Shepherd,” which is tinged with bluegrass steel guitar and the old-timey piano plinking. Another standout, the title track, spans just over nine minutes and glistens with urgent percussion and a guitar solo reminiscent of Carlos Santana’s heyday. This track is Woods at its most assertive, an attitude that should be further amplified on future releases.

With the exception of those two tracks, however, the album’s material relies on the same formulaic approach that Woods has taken on their past four releases. Each track couples Earl’s omnipresent smoky falsetto vocals with optimistic lyrics and lo-fi instrumentals, a standard that fans of the band have become quite familiar with.

Woods’ sound is one that nods to psychedelic folk music of the late ’60s, and on “With Light,” it is as refined as it’s ever been. The melodies are sharp and catchy, and the instrumentals are gritty yet gorgeous. Although this is not anything new for the band, the consistency of the tracks on this album is a testament to the time spent on it — there is no superfluous filler here.

Woods proves that treading on familiar ground is not necessarily a bad thing with tracks such as “Shining,” “New Light” and “Leaves Like Glass.” “Twin Steps” brings them into ’60s boy band territory. There is not a dull moment — even the slow-moving “Feather Man,” which closes the album, remains gripping as Earl coos Woods’ musical variation of a campfire ghost story.

“With Light and With Love” is not anything innovative from Woods, but it is an irresistibly optimistic and consistent offering with an impressive level of cohesiveness — despite its occasional redundancy.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 17 print edition. Sal Maicki is a contributing writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com.

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