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.
For the first time in years, I feel confident that there will be new music…
So, how were they?