A charming collection which might possess more mass appeal than its makers realise.
Mike Diver 2011-06-24
Album number six from this rural-ways-evoking outfit doesn’t stray far from the dusty path they’ve followed with great results ‘til this point: bucolic, but not without bite, Sun and Shade is both instantly familiar and wonderfully rewarding if you let it spin away over several plays. Recorded at Buttermilk Falls, a state park south-west of Ithaca, New York, this set captures well the sense of escapism and retreat that comes with any venturing from city to country: strums are lazy, deliberately woozy; the vocals drift ghostly, like whispers through trees. Arrangements rarely break into a sweat, and improvisation isn’t usually engaged with at the expense of a song’s heart and soul.
The Jeremy Earl-fronted trio does wander from the tall grass and bubbling brook come Out of the Eye, though – after three tracks of warm acoustic alt-country/indie-folk, the album takes a turn for Krautrock, the song a close cousin of The Horrors' hypnotic Sea Within a Sea (the highlight of their Mercury nominated Primary Colours album). And they make the switch from backwater recluses to autobahn riders surprisingly well, the track a successfully engrossing exercise in effective repetition. Although it stretches for seven minutes, not a second feels wasted, each counting towards the overall (superb) result.
At their most stripped-back, Woods have always been arresting – but here they realise some of their most beautiful work yet. Wouldn’t Waste is simple in the extreme, just vocal and guitar; but it’s every bit as captivating as the fully fleshed numbers that surround it, if not more so for the perfectly judged space between sounds. Closer Say Goodbye is in a similar vein, a very pretty curtain-down number that sends the listener home with a cheery wave.
Critics have previously referred to Woods as a consistent album band, and Sun and Shade certainly backs this summarisation up. In isolation, these tracks might not leave a substantial impression; collected, they become far more intriguing, the hold of this LP definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Only once do Woods lose their way, the faint lights of far-away settlements fading from view, and that’s on the unremarkable and overly long instrumental Sol Y Sombra (which opens ‘side B’). But it takes little away from what is otherwise a very charming collection that, for all of its left-of-centre intent, actually possesses more mass appeal than its makers might realise.