It took Woods several years and a befuddling number of vinyl releases, tour-only cassettes, and proper albums before knocking it out of the park with last year’s Songs of Shame. Their third album was a streamlined collection of psych-rock, moving away from lonely, tape-distorted sketches toward a full-band sound, albeit one still wrapped in a lo-fi haze. At Echo Lake, out on lead singer Jeremy Earl’s Woodsist imprint, continues the natural evolution in craftsmanship. This record is the band’s most cogent collection of songs to date, acting as the folk-rock complement to Shame’s fried guitar jams.
First and foremost, Jeremy Earl is a songwriter. Granted, his compositions tend to be buried beneath plenty of fuzz, but enough hooks peak through the hiss to keep the songs firmly planted in your mind long after the record is finished. On Shame, dueling electric guitars provided a noisy backdrop, but Lake features Earl’s lonesome warble front and center over skewed campfire folk. He’s a gifted lyricist, often tackling big-picture themes like death and time with a deft turn of phrase: “Death rattles in torn-up shoes/ Love lies in the cut-up roots” (“Death Rattles”). The dark folk fits the subject matter well, and the band incorporates tape loops, noise, and left-field sound effects on top of spare acoustic guitar and reverb-drenched drums.
The experimentation can’t hide the inherent sweetness of album standout “Time Fading Lines,” where golden harmonies share space with a din of psychedelic clatter. Likewise, songs like “Get Back” and “Mornin’ Time” play fast and loose with soulful country-rock, a style Woods only hinted at on Shame. It’s an extension of the band’s natural raggedness, and the demo-like quality adds to the breezy charm.
But Woods aren’t slaves to the “spot-the-influence” game. Their originality is apparent on the album’s lead-off track. “Blood Dries Darker” serves as a bridge between their past and present: It’s noisy but spartan, and this is what distinguishes Woods from their lo-fi peers. “Darker” is propelled by both distortion and an easygoing rhythm, with guitar squall diving in and out of the infectious melody. It sets the table for the rest of the album: While the low fidelity might initially suggest a tossed-off weekend jam session amongst friends, Lake reveals itself to be weighty, measured, and brimming with creativity.
At Echo Lake and its predecessor, Songs of Shame, act as a mighty one-two punch in Woods’s discography. They’ve built an intriguing sound that dips into the past but is firmly grounded in the present, a perfect balance between old and new, weird and accessible. Woods aren’t just kings of the current lo-fi craze: Their timeless music is built to last.
The Woodists Records roster -- which over the past couple of years has released albums from Wavves, Sic Alps, and Crystal Stilts -- has leaned heavily on a kind of blistering, aggressive lo-fi that has become nothing short of a major trend in the popular music landscape. But 2009's Songs Of Shame, the first Woods album released on Woodsist, favored songcraft and texture over raucous guitar squall.
The band's primary duo, Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere, insist on a homemade tape sound, which has garnered them comparisons to Guided By Voices. At Echo Lake (perhaps a call-back to their 2007 release, At Rear House) is another Woods album marked by oddball folk, psychedelic guitars, homemade electronics, and Earl's eerie, Neil Young-esque vocals. At Echo Lake is lusher than its occasionally thin-sounding predecessor, and it appealingly blends noise, dense electronics, and lo-fi rock unlike any freaky band out there does.