Album Review: WOODS – With Light and With Love

woods-with-light-and-with-loveLast year’s Bend Beyond was great without qualification. Still, that album can now be seen as a clear forerunner, a first run at a stylistic range, for WOODS’ new album With Light and With Love, released last week on the band’s own Woodsist imprint. Where Bend Beyond consisted of outstanding but somewhat brief song sketches, With Light and With Love is a lush and layered musical achievement. Between these two albums, bassist Kevin Morby managed to release not only a solo album but also an incredible power pop album with side project The Babies. With good reason, the guy is an indie rock hero who has become a lauded icon within communities highly attuned to happenings in independent music. Along with frontman Jeremy Earl, the two comprise quite the psych folk force.

The songs that comprise With Light and With Love range from outright alt-country to psych-tinged folk to brooding experimental pop. These styles are reflected respectively by the record’s opening three songs. As though Earl first lays out a road map for where the record will take us, these songs are With Light and With Love’s compass, scale, and grid. Pedal steel notes open the album with cutting clarity—I had to double check that I clicked the right song. WOODS has always possessed a penchant for folk, but album opener “Shepherd” takes their sound to the most pristine levels of alt-country it has ever inhabited. “Shining” follows—one of the album’s strongest tracks, it gives us a quick dose of classic psych pop. It’s a direct successor to the pop created by the Zombies back in the 60s. (Aside: both bands play Austin Psych Fest this weekend, and you should go.)

Title-track “With Light and With Love” falls third in the album’s sequence and sounds almost as if you’ve turned it on mid-song, bursting forward with noodling, slightly distorted guitar and jilted, jazzy rhythms. The track ambles forward and makes its way through screeching sonic textures and a calm, atmospheric synth section before building back into an instrumental frenzy and ending abruptly just before the ten-minute mark. These three songs embody the diversity of With Light and With Love, but the songs that follow will blend and enmesh these tendencies with masterful dexterity. “Leaves Like Glass” stands out among the others and fuses the record’s country elements with rolling organ a la the psychedelic songs of The Byrds.

“Moving to the Left” is a personal favorite, perhaps because the song’s infectious percussion and bass recalls the indie rock classic “Fight Test” by Flaming Lips. On “Twin Steps,” WOODS is in full on psych rock mode, and the band returns to folk sensibilities on closer “Feather Man.” It’s evident from his work on his own as well as with WOODS and The Babies that Morby is stylistically adventurous and musically relentless. Perhaps most astounding is that even with this level of output, his albums remain excellent. With Light and With Love belongs in the conversation as one of the year’s most enjoyable albums so far.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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