Woodsist Records prides itself on doing things the old-fashioned way. It’s a time warp of a record label, choosing to cultivate a particular sound through limited-run cassettes, 7-inch singles, and vinyl LPs. This approach attempts to hark back to the days when labels had specific aesthetics, relative to their regions and the management’s tastes. And through this new compilation, Woodsist largely succeeds: The label is at the forefront of lo-fi psychedelia, a niche of a niche that doesn’t require a declarative statement so much as a snapshot of a time.
Woodsist is helmed by Jeremy Earl, frontman for the band Woods, and he has his own personal stamp on the proceedings. Woods kicks off the comp with the bright campfire ditty “I’m Not Gone” as a way to ease into the distortion that follows. The comp feels like a personalized mixtape from Earl himself, featuring relatively bigger names like Skygreen Leopards and Real Estate offshoots Alex Bleeker and Ducktails alongside a bevy of newcomers.
The sounds are fairly varied, a welcome surprise considering the pigeonhole the sub-genre tends to put itself into: tape recording plus distortion plus mumbled lyrics equals a blog-able song. Here, there’s standard ‘60s fetishism, like the Fresh & Onlys’ “Heel. Toe.,” but the song is well-composed and an absolute earworm. The Mantles unveil the surf-rock inspired “Bad Movies” to great effect, and both Cause Co-Motion! and Nodzzz break out short, sunny blasts of jangly pop, indebted to ‘60s forbears but still fun and refreshing all the same. Elsewhere, the cheekily named Run DMT impresses with “Richard,” a song so tape-damaged it feels like it will fall apart at any time. While this recording technique could be used as a mask, here it’s used as an instrument in its own right. White Fence’s abrasive organ droning follows on “The Love Between,” a dark antithesis to much of the comp’s feel-good vibes.
And sometimes these feel-good vibes get the best of the comp. Both Alex Bleeker and his Real Estate bandmate Matt Mondanile (here as Ducktails) offer up limp songs that barely register, while Moon Duo overstays its welcome with a six-and-a-half-minute dub jam. City Center’s “Box of Rain” (a Grateful Dead cover) is offensive in its amateurism and certainly one of a handful that should’ve been left in the garage.
The scattershot sounds and subtle experimentation act as the modus operandi for Woodsist. They’re not out to change the world like Nuggets did, the patron saint of compilations and an obvious touchstone here. Rather, this serves as an interesting word-of-mouth among friends, showing what a bunch of underground freaks can do with distortion and home recording, for better or for worse.