On its ninth album, “City Sun Eater in the River of Light,” Brooklyn psych-folk band Woods again delivers a batch of well-rounded songs with a voice, albeit ones that have changed in tone.
Nine records in almost as many years is nothing to scoff at for any band, especially one that has been as consistent as Woods. While no album has really ever stood out, you could stand behind each one and call it a good album and without having really missed its mark on any of them. Acoustic guitars strumming and picking out ’60s-style psych-pop melodies with fuzzed guitar and singer Jeremy Earl’s tinny alto wisping along has always been the band’s modus operandi, with varying degrees of indulgence on each record.
The band’s last release, “With Light and With Love,” in 2014 is probably the sunniest Woods record put to tape, leading it also be one of its more generic offerings. “City Sun” takes place as the rays of “With Light” start to dip below the horizon and an orange sky begins to lose superiority to the curious darkness. The shadowy opener “Sun City Creeps” sets this tone perfectly with muted mariachi horns setting in like a haze on the prickly guitar and smoky keyboards. “The sunset it creeps/ oh, let it go,” chants Earl before a sharp guitar freakout spikes like a shattered light bulb, coming down in glass shards to ride the song to its conclusion. The tune already stands alone as one of the more distinctive and interesting Woods songs, but it was with such simple tweaks to its sound, as darkening the mood a little bit and adding some horns; subtle but significant.
That occurs over and over again while whisking through the night among the 10 tracks on “City Sun.” The band added texture and character to its songs, which had been lacking in recent releases, by including different instrumental accents that are simple yet change the whole attitude. “Can’t See It All” plays with a reggae rhythm and a smart choice of dubby keyboards to guide the songs’ dazed saunter. It feels hot and sticky and a little sexy, which are characteristics that do not usually come to mind when you think of Woods. “Creature Comfort” is a slick little number that benefits from some gliding keyboards and lo-fi funk beat. There is something eerie about “I See In The Dark” that the band rides well and turns into an almost trance with glow-in-the-dark synthesizers and a pulsing bassline. It’s playing with its sound in freeing manner that was more evident in earlier albums and this letting go feels almost fresh.
The band seems to be letting more emotions fly and it can create some fabulous moments. “The Take” smolders with warm hints of brass and piano that play over a honey-dipped bass line as it loops over itself. Then Earl lets out a forceful yelp and the band amps up the intensity with a pressurized guitar solo that devolves into a minute and a half of guitars and reverb waxing all over the rhythm as it slowly fades away. That small moment is most expressive Earl has ever been on record and it changed the direction of the whole song, though the rhythm and melody stayed the same. Earl sings in a slightly higher register, yet more under his breath, on “Hang It On Your Wall” and the two-minute excursion has an anxious air to it that is slightly unsettling, but shows Earl trying to find the emotion in the performance.
Though the changes are small on “City Sun” compared to past efforts, it opens up possibilities for where exactly where Woods will go next. Will it be return to the sunnier territories of previous records or will it take another step toward the weird? With how fast the band churns out albums, you might be able to find out after only a couple more spins of its latest, but enjoy “City Sun Eater in the River of Light” before you do.
“City Sun Eater in the River of Light”
Release: April 8, 2016
Notable Tracks: “Sun City Creeps” “I See In The Dark” “The Take”