The title, At Echo Lake - the fifth album from New York’s Woods - intimates a modern rock aesthetic fully informed by historical manifestations of adolescence along with a concomitant feel for the specifics of time and place. The distance between At Rear House (2007) and At Echo Lake may at first seem only semantic but it gives a more realistic representation - a move from a kind of informal back porch jam ethos to a fully-committed vision of the infinite possibilities of group playing.
Over the past few years Woods have established themselves as an anomaly in a world of freaks. They were an odd proposition even in the outré company of vocalist/guitarist/label owner Jeremy Earl’s Woodsist roster, perpetually out of time, committed to songsmanship in an age of noise, drone and improvisation, to extended soloing, oblique instrumentals and the usurping use of tapes and F/X in an age of dead-end singer-songwriters.
Recent live shows have seen them best confuse the two, playing beautifully-constructed songs torn apart by fuzztone jams and odd electronics. At Echo Lake feels like a diamond-sharp distillation of the turbulent power from their live shows, in much the same way that The Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” single amplified and engulfed the planetary aspect of their improvised takes.
Some of the material here – the opening, “Blood Dries Darker” and the euphoric “Mornin’ Time” – is so lush that lesser brains would’ve succumbed to the appeal of strings and horns. But At Echo Lake is more Fifth Dimension than Notorious Byrd Brothers, nowhere more so than on “From The Horn”, a track that is as beautiful in its assault on form as “Eight Miles High” or Swell Maps’ “Midget Submarines”. But despite the instrumental innovation that the album heralds – G. Lucas Cranes’ psychedelic tapework on “Suffering Season”, guest musician Matthew Valentine’s harmonica and modified banjo/sitar on “Time Fading Lines” – At Echo Lake is all about the vocals. Woods’ secret weapon is the quality of Earl’s voice, melding the naive style of Jad Fair, Jonathan Richman and Neil Young while re-thinking it as a discipline and a tradition. Here he is singing at the peak of his powers, in a high soulful style that is bolstered by heavenly arrangements of backing vocals.
At Echo Lake feels like the transmission point for teenage garage from the past to the future. Deformed by contemporary experiments, bolstered by magical traditions from the past, it’s the sound of now, right here, At Echo Lake.
David Keenan/Glasgow/March 2010
At Echo Lake Track List
1.Blood Dries Darker 6.Death Rattles
2.Pick Up 7.Mornin' Time
3.Suffering Season 8.I Was Gone
4.Time Fading Lines 9.Get Back
5.From the Horn 10.Deep
11.Til the Sun Rips
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