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Sun and Shade Barnaby Smith , June 17th, 2011 06:28

For half a decade now, Woods of Brooklyn have been quietly going about their business of making some of the most delightful jangle-rock around, enjoying a following of fans who must largely have come across them by chance, such is the relative lowness of their profile. This can be put down to the fact they tour fairly rarely (especially in Europe) and have absolutely no image whatsoever. So they see bands like MV & EE, Golden Animals and Sleepy Sun forge ahead because those bands are, frankly, much sexier.

That's a shame, because Woods have enough about them to attract those in thrall to the Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Greenhornes and the like. Previous album At Echo Lake was a career-high effort, conducting the so-called 'spirit of Woodstock' alongside the few remaining credible elements of the erstwhile 'freak folk' thing. At Echo Lake was very charming indeed… maybe it will get a reissue as a 'lost classic' in about 30 years.

Sun and Shade is more of the same, though perhaps more firmly and consciously balanced between straightforward Byrds-like folk rock and a more primitive drone sound that recalls Yo La Tengo's debt to the Velvet Underground. Not as consistent or urgent as the marvellous At Echo Lake, Sun and Shade is nevertheless a welcome addition to their catalogue.

That said, opener 'Pushing Onlys' is difficult to get past. This is a Neil Young imitation to a staggering degree, singer and songwriter Jeremy Earl having that familiar near-falsetto at the best of times, on this occasion on a song that could easily have been a Rust Never Sleeps outtake. It's almost as if the album doesn't properly begin, because Woods haven't assumed their own skin, until second song 'Any Other Day'.

'Any Other Day' and songs like 'Be All Be Easy' and 'Who Do I Think I Am?' are unspectacular if pleasant acoustic dribs and drabs, yet the album rises to another plain with the druggy instrumental 'Out Of The Eye', one song that certainly could not have appeared on At Echo Lake. Here, Woods expand their sound to step neatly and unexpectedly into Wooden Shjips territory.

Another along these lines is 'Sol y Sombra', confirming that Woods can match most for unsophisticated Eastern-style drone. Those pieces can be contrasted with the pure, Rickenbacker-happy 60s joy of 'Hand It Out' and 'What Faces The Sheet'. Truly, Woods have one foot in the world of songs and one in the world of jams.

It would not be unreasonable to presume, however, that this obligation to both styles might render Sun and Shade a little incoherent. This is a trap they do avoid, by allowing finely measured expression to each side in a way that complements the other, very aware that both their drone music and their sprightly pop emerged from the same late 60s seed even if their modern homage is split in two.

Actually, the best song on the album is from neither school. 'To Have In The Home' ranks with 'Time Fading Lines' from At Echo Lake as the peak of Woods' abilities, this track taking an acoustic riff extremely reminiscent of Funkadelic's 'Can You Get To That' and makes it the basis for something warm, anthemic and uplifting.

In fact a sense of exuberant joy makes its way into pretty much everything Woods dabble in, so even if the overtly reverential nature of their music is too much for some, there is always some sunshine to fall back on.  

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