Following 2017’s healing hand that was Love Is Love, Woods return changed, as we all are, but still mining the same mercurial magic that’s always surrounded them. While the last album dealt with finding optimism in the face of crushing disappointment (2016 in a nutshell), Strange To Explain has the benefit, or rather the burden, of having lived in the world a few more years since the bottom fell out. The band spent time growing— nurturing family and the label — and now they return with an album that’s tender, but also bruised. That yearning optimism that surrounded Love Is Love has tempered into a wistful reservation. They’re still looking to spread that love, but Woods seem to understand that it can feel hard to find a foothold on the ladder out of our low points these days. Likewise, despite the inclination there might to lash out, the record lacks the rhythmic turbulence that drove City Sun Eater In The River of Light. In its place there’s a contentedness underlying the album, the feeling that while the outer universe might spin out of control, our own nuclear worlds can still be a center of peace.
There’s some worry too, how could there not be? It melts for the most part, though, under Earl and co’s radiant glow. The band’s been refining their sound for years, and each new album adds a layer of lush comfort that solidifies them as leading their folk peers while constantly existing outside of any established models. Woods and Woodist are inseparable and the community that they’ve built around themselves shimmers through on Strange To Explain. The communal vibes of the label’s namesake festival are threaded through the album. The harmonies hug close. The instruments blend in watercolor coolness.
Don’t let the smooth taste take away the band’s bite, though. The headiness that positions them high atop the list of bands who can knock the hell out of a live set pokes out from under the lacquered veneer. Album closer Weekend Wind, pushes the album out of its sun-in serenity and into a few gnarled grooves that catch the Cosmic Americana wind. “Fell So Hard,” feels like it might lend itself to ten-minute extension once the amps are warm and humming. There are probably few who need an introduction to what Woods are about at this point, but if you need a reminder of why they’ve remained vital this past decade or so, Strange to Explain is more than up to the challenge.
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