The arc of the psychedelic music universe is long, but it bends toward songcraft. That's certainly been the catalog trajectory of Brooklyn's psilocybin warriors Woods, whose initial lo-fi psych folk — Fleet Foxes as done by Sebadoh — evolved into full-bloom psychedelia on 2010's Echo Lake and 2011's Sun and Shade.
But with their superb new LP, Jeremy Earl's outfit has dialed back the acid-jams and exchanged ramshackle charm for sparkling craft. Before, even the band's space jams or Krautrock grooves featured strong melodies to mirror off a lo-fi aesthetic that played like, well, sun and shade, one enhancing the other. If you liked it, you just had to endure a bit of heavy handed psychedelia now and then.
Here, with the exception of the nine-minute title cut, which is still more Spencer Davis-meets-Can groove than hippie jam anyway, songcraft is king. There are tell-tale signs of the shift — a concise 10-song, 40-minute run-time, multiple three-minute tracks, etc. But that's not what distinguishes the record. Rather, it's the continuity with which the songs absorb and reflect their influences, including some new-to-Woods ones, and emerge with the band's finest set.
"Shepherd" works like a thesis statement, a three-minute opener that could've migrated from a Beachwood Sparks LP, complete with pedal steel solo and barroom piano fills. The middle-Eastern feel of "Shining" suggests a Yardbirds/Byrds hybrid, thick organ runs and beefy guitar riff overlaid with a McGuinn-ish sitar-like solo. The catchy bounce of "Moving to the Left" relies on a hook that sways like a seaside palm, providing a buoyant atmosphere for Early to contemplate mindbenders from the psychedelic voyage, "Are we spinning with the sun?/Are we moving on an arc?/Are we moving with the rest?"
But it's a pair of side-B tunes that probably best capture the new Woods direction. On "New Light," judicious backward loops and Moog accents create a classic Revolver tableau, while on the lost-love tale, "Full Moon," it's George Harrison-circa-Traveling Wilburys — complete with neckjoint bottle-
slide riff — whose influence predominates. Both cuts emphasize Early's growing songwriting chops, and confirm that psychedelia will be part of the voyage now instead of the destination.