Album Review: WOODS – With Light and With Love

Determined and unwavering Brooklyn-based folk rock band WOODS have released over six albums since their inception in 2005, distinguishing them as some of the hardest-working indie rockers. Singer-guitarist and founder Jeremy Earl even runs the record label Woodsist, from which WOODS release their albums. Additionally, the group arranges a music-gathering in Big Sur, with this year marking the fifth annual Woodsist Festival. “Work Hard, Play Harder,” seems to be the overarching aphorism for WOODS and, with the release of an album with that very name, released last Tuesday, this philosophy has never been more apparent.

Most often, their albums implement psychedelic, folky pop melodies in order to create an eerie, spooktacular jam-band effort which bursts at the seams with boundless energy. Inspired by The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and with lush country undertones, WOODS’ newest album is a forty-minute existential exploration of self-progression and the possibilities of a new-found future. In contrast to earlier albums like At Rear House (2007) and Songs of Shame (2009), With Light and With Love establishes itself as a cleaner, more poignant collection, capable of reaching across impressive sonic distances. But, the result, like any WOODS album, is a sweetly haunting record that easily mesmerizes the minds and ears of their listeners. It’s a maturation of their style, a coming-into oneself, and a good indication that WOODS is heading in the right direction.

“Leaves like Glass,” the sixth song on the album, features crisp guitar, a woozy organ, energetic drums, and Earl’s sweet treble. Brimming with country riffs, “Leaves like Glass,” is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s powerful “Like a Rolling Stone.” Earl sings, “This love will wait for you / it’s gonna take some time. / You have your footprint, / just don’t walk in mine.” It’s an odd take on a love song, but WOODS executes it nearly flawlessly.

Stretching over nine minutes, the song “With Light and With Love” presents itself as an aural masterpiece, aiming to please, not ostracize. While the eponymous track is a reminder of WOODS’ past work, their jangling, psychedelic jam-band vibes, they cease to trail off into obscurity with “With Light and With Love,” even when channeling pseudo-progressive rock energy around the five-and-a-half minute mark. For WOODS, however, long songs are nothing new. 2011’s Sun and Shade contained two avant-garde tracks well-over seven minutes, the NEU!-esque, kraut-rocking, “Out of the Eye,” and the all-instrumental, percussion-rich, “Sol y Sombra.” These two tracks are accomplishments in themselves for the band, yet it’s interesting to trace just exactly how WOODS has digested these earlier works and re-imagined them on With Light and With Love. Like “Out of the Eye,” groovy bass lines still enchant “With Light and With Love” but, they have left the limelight. Instead, thick, psychedelic guitar overshadows the bass lines, climbing ever steadily until breaking into a drone as Earl pipes in: “Where is the heart? / I walk with love. / Death brings us close. / Death brings a ghost. / With light and with love, / tell me what to do.” The opposition of love and mortality provides a framework for action, and the song springboards off that tension, plummeting into a frenzied eddy of noisy distortion and instrumental multiplicity. It’s a dark move by WOODS, but deviously delicious. Eventually, after four minutes of organized improvisation, they return to the chorus, redeeming their chaotic cultivation. “With Light and With Love,” demands your attention and, for an intriguing psycho-spiritual experience, you should offer every ounce of it up to WOODS.

Whether intentional or coincidental, WOODS smartly echoes the beginning of The Flaming Lips’ catchy guitar on “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1” in their intro to “Moving to the Left.” Undoubtedly one of the most somber songs on the album, “Moving to the Left,” features lyrics like, “All of my life, / is this happening again? / Are we floating by and by? / Are we moving to the left?” With a murky view of the oncoming future, how are we to know whether we are progressing toward growth in a clear, sustainable manner? Themes of recursion, degeneration, and futility surface out of “Moving to the Left’s” beguiling lilt; however, WOODS juxtaposes their cynical lyricism with lax acoustics and playfully wispy electric guitar. Despite the skepticism hidden behind the lyrics, the arrangements in “Moving to the Left” exude the sensation of biting into a sweet nectarine and feeling the juices roll down your chin. Throughout, the percussion hides, subdued until the middle-portion of the song. Unsuspectingly, the drums breakout, sounding like something from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer? The electric guitar, drums, and acoustics rendezvous for a moment, to drive the dismal questions home, and fade once again back into each other, signifying the end of the track. “Moving to the Left,” recedes with a funky wah-wah, a euphonious piece of musical punctuation. At a little over five minutes, it’s not necessarily the quickest dose of WOODS’ potential but, it possesses an impressive quality of upstanding musicianship.

A psychedelic celebration of death and life, With Light and With Love is a muscled up, unpretentious, soul-searching record, swollen with authenticity, heart-wrought lyrics, and powerful instrumentation. It challenges the notions of the concrete and the abstract, subverting the two in WOODS’ always intricate song structure. From the ambitious “With Light and With Love” to the equally captivating “Leaves of Glass,” the record successfully leaps between themes and forms, providing listeners with an altogether solidly surprising LP.

In two words: WOODS ROCKS!

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