As with all movements, the lo-fi trend has tapered off over the past couple years. In its wake, many of the artists who found their niche within the genre have had to step outside the tape hiss and attempt to tread water on the strength of their songwriting. The entire ethos of the lo-fi movement was the idea that great songs will always be great, regardless of the production (this is the gospel of Robert Pollard). As the dust has settled, some have found success moving away from the 4-track recorder (Ty Segall, Wavves, Times New Viking) while others have been exposed (Male Bonding, Matt and Kim, Psychedelic Horseshit).
After the release of Wood’s 2011 album “Sun and Shade,” I felt that they belonged in the latter category. Without the amateurish production, the band seemed lost. Many of the songs come off as lazy, while others meander aimlessly from one guitar solo to another with several songs stretching past the seven-minute mark. The band’s knack for melodies seemed all but gone and the charm of the past erased.
I was so bored and disappointed with the album that I didn’t envision myself buying any more of their work. That is, until I had a phone call with fellow BDWPS contributor Kid KiloWatt (although he hasn’t contributed for over a year). During the conversation, he asked if I had the new Woods album, to which I of course answered “No.”
“Oh, I heard it’s pretty good.” That is all I needed to hear. If you know Kid KiloWatt like I know Kid KiloWatt, I had to give Woods one last shot to reclaim their former glory.
And damn it if they didn’t pull me back in with their contagious melodies and masterful songwriting. Bend Beyond is easily the most polished and focused Woods album to date. The tracks are all tightly knit two-to-four minute folk pop songs that are built around a solid backbone of melody. You may find an errant guitar solo here or a momentary harmonica freak-out, but all-in-all, the band has abandoned their stoner free-for-all in favor of what gained them popularity in the first place – their songs.
“Bend Beyond” is a standout track, simply a well-crafted song:
For traditionalists who may cry foul in the face of the band’s complete abandonment of their one-time barebones approach, never fear. Yes, the songs are built on solid ground and are constructed of mass-produced bricks rather than all natural sticks gathered from the woods, but there is still that familiar frailty in these songs found within Jeremy Earl’s falsetto. His voice has always resembled a 12-year-old trying to imitate Neil Young, and on Bend Beyond they didn’t abandon the vocal innocence that defines their sound.
On “Is It Honest,” Earl’s voice captures the frustration that powers the melody:
While Earl’s vocals are still sweet and naive, Bend Beyond is a mature step for the band, providing songs that are finely crafted and recorded with meticulous precision. While it may not be the disheveled mess of fun that originally gained the band notoriety, it represents an important moment in the band’s evolution. They are no longer defined by a genre, rather, they have defined themselves.