Gather 'Round the Fire, Woods Win Hearts 'With Light and Love'

8
With Light and Love
Reviews
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Label: Woodsist

by Jonathan Zwickel

The Woodsist cult comprises an eponymous record label based in upstate New York, an annual outdoor music festival in Big Sur, and, at the center of this inconspicuous constellation, a sanguine little psych-rock band called Woods. For almost a decade, bandleader Jeremy Earl has attracted a flock of feral seekers and kindred spirits—some of Earl's early releases on Woodsist were by Kurt Vile, Thee Oh Sees and Vivian Girls—drawn to his homespun, sylvan aesthetic, most vividly espoused by Woods over seven self-released albums.

Like the rest, album number eight plays like an introvert's manifesto, music made with humble means and consciousness-shifting intentions. With Light and With Love sounds bigger, though, more accessible, conceived with an ear toward top-down, tear-out-of-town FM anthems of summers past. (Is that Gerry Rafferty's riff from "Right Down the Line" that eases through "Full Moon"?) Certainly it's cleaner and richer than Woods' early lo-fi head-trips, with piano and organ adding elegance to the trio's guitar-driven squall. Earl sings of big things—loving, leaving, growing, dying—with a plainspoken poetry that observes cycles both celestial and human. Amid the album's grandest themes and most sprawling jams—the nine-minute title song, for instance—Earl's boyish coo stays small and close, the guru next door.

The album title suggests an offering, a gift; even concise, compact tunes like "New Light" and "Twin Steps" rightly convey abundance. But with Woods, commiseration comes from curiosity: "All of my days are we spinning with the sun? Are we moving on and on? Are we moving with the rest?" Earl wonders in "Moving to the Left." Sauntering confidently and koan-like, the song is the album's centerpiece. Woods finds meaning not in the answer but the asking—open-ended, risk-prone and ultimately assured in never knowing.

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