By Jenn Pelly
Woods' impeccably timed sixth record, Sun & Shade, rivals many of the warm '60s classics they’ve been channeling since 2005. Crisp folk ballads, extended psych-burners, and sad, incisive pop lyrics-- some of frontman Jeremy Earl’s most thoughtful and audible to date-- float between the album's titular tropes: "sun" for pop, "shade" for the rest. Decked in clean reverb, mid-tempo opener “Pushing Onlys” offers steady rays of beaming folk-rock, with Earl singing about a new day and the slipping of time. There are images of tattered clothes and crystal skies, and you can practically see a tire swing swaying to the slow thump of the drum in some distant and invincible summertime utopia. The forward-moving rocker “Any Other Day” is, similarly, all blue skies, which makes sense: Sun & Shade is the first Woods album recorded at the hidden Woodsist HQ in tiny, wooded, Warwick, NY.
“Out of the Eye” is a seven-minute piece of noisy but meditative motorik improv, underpinned by a steady guitar drone. The slower, stripped down-folk of “Be All Be Easy” and “Wouldn’t Waste” is quiet and pristine, and a testament to the band’s improved home-fi technique. While we’ve recently witnessed a mass indie exodus from bedroom to studio, Woods have simply gotten better at home recording.
The record’s best track, “Who Do I Think I Am?,” recalls the campfire pop of the band's earliest recordings, albeit cloaked in the introspective thought trap of a dark baladeer. Earl delivers a lonesome, country-tinged narrative with '50s boy-pop charm, perpetually calling himself out for blaming his sorrow on someone else. Over acoustic strums and subtle, electric guitar shine, Earl thinks out loud and walks alone, singing, “Who am I to be runnin' around,/ puttin' anyone but my own self down?” Whether the sentiment is fictional or not, it's striking to hear the ever-mysterious Earl sing something so gut-wrenchingly open and palpably desperate. For all the song’s self-doubt-- and all the band's celestial psych and neo-hippie vibes-- it’s refreshing to hear a band that’s not at war with its own identity.