Woods, a band name that would have instantly grabbed my attention, slipped passed the scope of my interests. Why? The lo-fi quality of the production coupled with an interest in another genre of music could have misguided my decision making. Either way, I have been unfamiliar with this band up until their most recent release, At Echo Lake. Being pleasantly surprised with an album is something that I revel in with great emotion. The sudden capturing of my attention by an album or a band has a retroactive force that fluctuates throughout the following days and/or weeks to come. I fervently search for music that is reminiscent of that particular style or sound, and I usually stumble across some interesting bands. But, I also exhaust my resources by continuing to search for stuff that isn’t there. At Echo Lake, an album that is the product of these searches, hasn’t necessarily caused it’s own search, but it has left me surprised and pondering the question: where was I for their previous records?
Upon researching as much as I could before this review I came to the conclusion that this latest release is somewhat of a departure from their earlier, more acoustically heavy folk albums. At Echo Lake is even a slight departure, within the quality of the production, from last years, Songs Of Shame. The gradual increase in the quality of their recording and production has both hindered and improved their sound. Many people split to their respective sides when it comes to lo-fi recordings, as do most people when it comes to any kind of polarizing style or sound. Some of the positive aspects that I attributed to early Woods albums was the sense that I was in a cabin, deep in the forest, listening to the creeks and groans of old wood, as well as the encroaching sounds of the wilderness. The songs represented a campfire mentality that exuded reveries of yearning lamentations and nostalgically cathartic happiness. This feeling has remained intact for their latest release, but there is a feeling that you are closer to civilization; the sounds of not too distant cars speeding down a darkened road flood the senses and then dissolve into the night.
The most immediate positive aspect of this gradual transition is “Suffering Season.” An incredible song that instantly registers in your heart with each passing chord change and flutter of instrumentation. Jeremy Earl’s ability to continually stretch a melody seamlessly through verse and chorus is truly a worthy accomplishment to mention. His high-pitched, Neil Young-ish vocal style enables him to effortlessly seep back into the static of the underlying tape hiss that is still tagging along for the ride. Most of the songs on the album are good. “Blood Dries Darker,” “Pick Up,” and “Time Fading Lines,” are all very well written and poppy enough to stay embedded within my head. They are also a wonderful string of songs to open an album with. The psychedelia usually associated with the Woodsist record label finally officially shows itself through the instrumental “From the Horn,” and the leading electric guitar of “Death Rattles.” The album starts to drag for me during the next four song. “Mornin’ Time,” “I Was Gone,” “Get Back,” and “Deep,” all seem forced and somewhat aimless. Fortunately, they regain their momentum for the last song. “Til the Sun Rips,” an acoustic ballad that has a catchy melody, understates the need for better production by playing it simple and adding an effectively placed tambourine to carry the album to a close.
At Echo Lake awakened me to a great new band with a catalog that I shall further place under investigation. This album is also a worthy addition to my selection of summer albums this year, and besides a slight drought towards the end, it is a very interesting and beautiful creation. A must-have for those who enjoy good lo-fi music and a recommendation to those who are wary but willing to be adventurous.