Douglas Martin can see the woods for the trees.
Jeremy Earl is a busy man. As the mastermind behind Woodsist, he’s quietly pushed the tiny, DIY, Brooklyn-based label to the forefront of the indie-rock landscape, spearheading the new wave of lo-fi bands flooding the marketplace and incubating for some of underground rock’s big-name groups (Vivian Girls, Wavves). His label now serves as the home of legitimately talented rising acts such as Moon Duo and The Fresh & Onlys, inspiring brand loyalty usually reserved for fixtures like 4AD, Sub Pop, and maybe Roc-a-Fella in 2001. In addition to the full-time job running Woodsist, Earl is also part of the songwriting nucleus of Woods, whose style of psychedelic folk-rock summons the ghost of Jerry Garcia out of an acid tab buried in dingy New York basement.
Following a string of impressive releases including last year’s excellent Songs of Shame, At Echo Lake might be the most hotly-anticipated Woodsist release ever. “Blood Dries Darker” kicks off the album with major-key chord progression and soloing furious enough to have hair standing up on the back of the neck of even the most cynical guitar geeks, its rousing thump quickly succeeded by the jaunty-but-eerie “Pick Up”. Underscored by rumbling, distorted white noise, Earl quietly croons “You’ll pick up what’s left within it/I’ll pick up on it, too” in a high register that is split between Elliott Smith and one of the Muppet Babies. The vulnerability in his vocals heightens the sentiment of both this song and album highlight “Death Rattles”, where Earl laments “God only knows, just to be by your side/I would be there all night, I would be there alright”. If Songs of Shame is an album full of long sighs of resignation, bitterness, and discontent, At Echo Lake represents solidarity and loyalty.
The musical differences between Songs of Shame and At Echo Lake are few but quite noticeable. The solemn nature of the former was delivered in a more straightforward-yet-meandering way, and the latter is a record chock full of short pop songs with massively psychedelic undertones. With a running time of under two minutes, “Mornin’ Time” spends half of the song disintegrating into a cloud of squall. “Deep” finds Earl harmonizing with himself as ghostly noises float throughout the song, punctuated with handclaps and jaunty flamenco guitar. In fact, there are so many ideas packed into At Echo Lake‘s 29 minutes that it’s possible to find new things even after the sixtieth listen. A lo-fi “headphones” record, if you will. Imagine that.
With At Echo Lake, Woods have proved that they can not only be listed in the upper echelon of Woodsist’s stacked roster, but also they can stand among the best working bands in indie-rock today. It’s going to be even harder to get Jeremy Earl on the phone.