Core Hush Arbors member Keith Wood has got a certain pedigree in the indie-folk scene, even though he’d likely balk at such a tag being attached to his music. He’s released a handful of homemade CD-Rs, played with Current 93 and Six Organs of Admittance, and now finds his Hush Arbors project signed to Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label.
This self-titled album begins in processed oblivion, as Wood and longtime collaborator Leon Dufficy deliver short, prickly bursts of FX-laden guitar on the instrumental track “Water.” Imagine a two-minute mash-up that synergizes the indulgent soloing of Crazy Horse and the robot guitars of Polvo. It’s scarcely a sign of what’s to come, but it acts as a wake-up call for anyone settling in for a quiet night of amiable acoustic meandering.
Once Wood and Dufficy have gotten your attention, their music percolates into some gently tractable forms. The guitars on second song “Follow Closer” sound like they’ve been ripped straight from Gene Clark’s hands on his seminal No Other, only to be closed down by a mercifully brief solo from Six Organs mainman Ben Chasny.
Wood’s falsetto pervades throughout and is shown off to pleasant effect on one of sparsest songs on the album, “Rue Hollow.” Occasionally it feels like he’s about to dip down an octave or two and edge toward Tim Buckley territory, but for the most part Wood keeps his range on an even keel. Any fans of Bon Iver will find a more than adequate replacement here, but that shouldn’t subtract from Wood and Dufficy’s efforts. The acoustic pluckings of “Rue Hollow” and “Sand” are some of the best, most pleasingly troubled sounds to come out of the spurious “acid-folk” genre.
The slow-burning circularity of “Bless You” provides the album with its hypnotic centerpiece. Wood peels off layer after layer of guitar and delivers an alliterative vocal that gives the song a neat krautfolk feel. It’s not a million miles from Chasny’s Six Organs project, and much of Hush Arbors’ sound is extracted from a comparable well of inspiration: Neil Young, Bert Jansch, and John Fahey all come to mind here.
Returning to the Bon Iver comparison, Hush Arbors’ music could pick up a similar word-of-mouth following if copies of this record reach the right hands and ears. There’s something deeply captivating about Wood’s songs, and they’re brought to an appropriate close with a tightly wound sequel (of sorts) to the album’s opener, “Water II.” This time Wood matches the screaming guitars with some screams of his own, allowing his vocals to break from the cerebral tones that inform much of his music and letting the album peak with clattering force.