Woods, At Echo Lake
Brooklyn jammers walk the fine line between order and chaos
Psychedelic rock constantly teeters on a razor's edge. Fall too far in one direction and you're left with little more than slightly spacey pop; overcompensate the other way, and you've got a druggy mess of guitar squalls and distorted dross. In the middle, though, is the pure bliss of a perfectly-developed tune, with just enough melody to keep you tuned in and just the right amount of trippiness to help the chemicals collide.
Somewhere in that uncanny valley reside Woods, the Brooklyn duo who have taken the lo-fi psych-folk of their earlier releases and honed their writing and production chops to create a sharp, frothy collection of tunes. Lead by chief songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Earl (who also serves as the label boss for Woodsist, a shabby, inspiring collective that also includes similarly freaked-out bands Real Estate and Moon Duo), Woods take snatches of melody (usually carried by Earl's adenoidal croon) and stir in blasts of bluesy guitar, jazzy brushed drums, moaning organs and choruses comprised of Technicolor voices that occupy the space between sunshine and doom. While their basement tape aesthetics and a knack for free-association lyrics have earned them comparisons to Guided by Voices, in truth the group is more closely aligned with mid-period Flaming Lips (there's a lot of Clouds Taste Metallic's shruggy anthemic quality on At Echo Lake) and Canadian weirdos Unicorns (who also managed to find the delicate balance between complicated song craft and "who-gives-a-damn" abandon).
That balancing act is best evidenced on "Mornin' Time," a jubilant, shuffling number that foregrounds the group's jammier sensibilities. It opens as a strummy, folky singalong with a bopping bass groove, but steadily devolves into an end-of-days space jam, a bit of guitar feedback gradually swallowing the groove whole. What's left is only a suggestion of the original melody and a wave of noise. It's a stunning juxtaposition that requires a few listens to really parse — an impressive arc, considering the song is less than two minutes long.
Similarly shambling is "Get Back," another two-minute masterpiece full of squiggly blues guitars, kindergarten melodies and tape hiss. Just as it begins to get shaggy, it ends, and as the song wraps, one of the microphones catches somebody say, "Is that a song?" The answer: "It is now." That's the way Woods operates: turning fuzz and feedback into an accidental masterpiece.