I’m not an outdoorsy person. I’ve never been one to want to throw off the shackles of modernity, to rid myself of everyday conveniences and build my own cabin in the woods. Though at times appealing, in the end I am a product of the times. While many of my friends in the past have said they would feel more comfortable growing up in the ’60s, I was just fine with the ’80s. But lately, I’ve warmed up to that decade; not the “free love” Haight-Ashbury aspect of the ’60s, but the arty east coast / European side. While I can’t imagine myself twirling in a park and wearing daisy chains, I can picture myself going to see Le Samourai, Last Year at Marienbad or Jules and Jim at the local art house theater. I can picture myself listening to the Velvet Underground or the Stooges on record or in a seedy club. My point is that I was seeing a stereotype of the ’60s for a while and then realized that there was more to it than incense and peppermints.
Brooklyn band Woods captures multiple aspects of the ’60s in their latest album, At Echo Lake. Though they themselves seem the type to chuck it all for that cabin, they also excel at melding arty lo-fi electrics into the psychedelic folk mold. In other words, they are City Mouse and Country Mouse. The fuzzy guitar solos and sweet falsetto vocals of opener “Blood Dries Darker” and later track, “From the Horn” are easily reminiscent of VU. “Pick Up” returns to the acoustic fray of songs from previous album, Songs of Shame, but the ominous booms in the background leave one a bit unsettled as what is really out there in the idyllic woods of their namesake. Things get much cheerier with the poppy “Suffering Season,” a sunny blend of gorgeous hooks and chipper vocals. These songs and others on the album are not simply planted in the ’60s. Instead, that’s where they take root, but their branches reach into many other times and places since then.
“Time Fading Lines,” “Death Rattles” and “Mornin’ Time” are more akin to modern day psych folk wizardry, along the lines of the Flaming Lips or Animal Collective. The latter song sounds like it might even be a Lips cover, and that’s certainly not a criticism. “I Was Gone” is one of the tracks that really stood out to me, with Jeremy Earl’s vocals going higher than ever before, and various guitar tracks overlapping each other in chaotic fusion. While it might be a jarring song to many, I found it entrancing. For those who might have skipped ahead, “Get Back” might be more pleasing to your ears, another track that has a VU-like guitar freakout, but with more straightforward verses and gauzy pop goodness. But, be warned, “Deep” gets right back to the weirdness, with slightly off-tune note plucking making up most of the song. I didn’t find “Deep” as listenable as “I Was Gone,” but it’s certainly not in Metal Machine Music territory either.
I think Woods may be laden with the psych-folk or freak-folk tag because there’s so much going on they’re hard to pin down. Sure, there are elements of their music that are akin to other bands in that hard to define genre, but there are also touchstones to many other muses. Woods seems to mirror both sides of the images of the ’60s I have in my head, the nature loving hippie folksters and the bohemian poetry-reading hipsters. It makes for a very entertaining record, one unbound by convention and stereotype.