Willie Schube chooses light over dark
The consistent excellence of Woods is by nature, both surprising and not. Why wouldn’t a band that turns out great record after great record be capable of doing exactly that again? While law of averages would suggest otherwise, such a law would also suggest that a band capable of unwavering excellence would be popular. Woods have defied both these expectations. Since 2009’s fantastic Songs of Shame, Woods have released the good At Echo Lake, the decent Sun and Shade, the also fantastic Bend Beyond, and now, With Light and With Love (which re-defines what consistency + Woods equals).
Five albums in six years is hard. Three great albums and two decent albums in six years is damn hard. Doing all this while still being criminally underrated is damn near impossible. Somehow, the psych-folksters from Brooklyn have found a way. However, too much of a good thing can often be overbearing, and this seems to be the case with Woods; the band took 2013 off to focus on other projects (solo records, running the Woodsist label, etc.). The break seemed to be the healthiest thing for a band who’s biggest problem is releasing too much good stuff at too fast a clip.
If 2013 was Woods’ winter hibernation, the early moments of With Light and With Love seem to suggest the waking moments of springs. “Shepherd”, the album’s first track, sounds like its smiling. The lap steel soars through the track’s high end, while the shuffling drums leap with ecstasy. Jeremy Earl’s nursery rhyme falsetto is as endearing as ever, and the organ reminds me so much of The Band it makes me want to cry. “Shepherd” is With Light and With Love’s thesis. It’s like that moment on Splash Mountain when all the animals are still happy; they’re dancing and singing, totally unaware of that big-ass drop and the terrifying pseudo-psychedelic second half of the ride. “Shepherd” is followed by “Shining”, a nice track that’s begging for a slightly less vanilla bassline. The organ is once again stellar, but the drums and bass seem to be on slightly different planes—the drums pleading to be matched in intensity and creativity.
The nine minute title track may steal the show, but the album’s true center-piece, and quite possibly the finest thing Woods have committed to tape, is “Moving to the Left”. The track sounds straight out of a Coca Cola commercial—after whatever trivial argument has been solved and everyone’s prancing in the street drinking ice-cold bottles of poisonous nectar. The interesting thing about Earl’s voice is that he could be saying nearly anything and the average listener would hardly notice. The pure sound of his singing voice is engaging enough that no other variables are of interest. This is the case on “Moving to the Left.” He sings, “All of my life/is this happening again/Are we floating by and by?” And guess what? I don’t give a shit! This song’s too goddamn enjoyable to worry about Earl’s concerns. Harsh? Don’t blame me, blame the dude who sugar coats his vocals in an insanely addictive falsetto.
The rest of With Light and With Love fails to reach the apex established by “Left”, but there are some moments of serious beauty. “Leaves Like Glass” is really nice, and “Full Moon” sounds like the first cousin of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (I can’t think of much higher praise than being compared to the knight rejector himself). Album closer “Feather Man” is delicate and gorgeous, featuring the mystical magic of voice and guitar. “Feather Man” illustrates the fairly wide ranging grasp of the new record. With Light may be Woods’ most diverse release to date, and quite possibly their best. Why, after all these years, this comes as a surprise is beyond me, but goddamn they’ve done it again.