Posts Tagged ‘Woodsist’

Woods – “Strange To Explain”

News that Woods has an album on the way was among the best reliefs of the year. The band’s been lying low for a little bit, letting themselves ease into their own lives and focus on the label and festival. With the reveal of the first two singles from Strange to Explain, though, they prove that their time to rest has resulted in one of Woods’ deepest, most endearing records. The band revealed the title track this week and it’s a bittersweet, yearning song that tackles strange feelings of familiarity. The band’s sound is fuller than ever, fleshed out from the early days of their psych-folk sojourns into lush orchestrations that nestle into the greenery of their Upstate environs. Woodist fam and RSTB fave Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, The Reds, Pinks and Purples) shows up on background vocals and the whole thing sighs into the summer with an ease I hope is just over the horizon. The record is out May 22nd.



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Woods – “Where Do You Go When You Dream?”

Well I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you about this one, but its not every day that Woods give word of a new record on the way. The band’s been working on this one for a comfortable stretch, coming in as their eleventh album after 2017’s Love Is Love, with only a collaboration with Dungen sneaking in between. Their last was a response to political shift following the upsets of 2016, but now the feelings have had a bit more time to simmer. The first single “Where Do You Go When You Dream?” continues to act as balm, but this is also a decidedly mature and elegiac Woods. The song floats on a breeze of keys, drifting away from some of the sunny strums that have marked their past works. Its a melancholy track, steeped in memory, family, and friendship. Ochre-hued harmonies, full-fleshed production, and Jeremy Earl’s wistful vocals herald an album that moves the band into a new phase of their career with grace and ease. The record is out May 22nd on Woodsist.



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Hurt Valley

The debut from Brian Collins arrives faded by the sun, a worn-in world of late afternoon shuffle that’s just a bit hazy from the full-bore UV-bake of 3pm rays. The album feels West Coast in a very real and tangible way. There’s no rush, no urgent angle to the songs. From needle in to needle out the record breezes through the air just below the threshold of sweat. The guitars twang just right — a touch of bend on the strings, a whisper of slide. The record feels like it was made for the moment and just happened to get caught up on the tape like a private press session from from the late ‘70s – a touch out of time and even more so once its locked in the time-capsule for a few more decades. When it emerges, though, the air is still rarefied and warm. The streaks from the blinds have imprinted themselves on each note and the private becomes parcel to the masses once more. Out of time becomes timeless and we’re all the better for it.

Like so many before him, Collins trades in melancholy and he wields it well. Between the soft rambles and mournful slides, Hurt Valley lives up to its name, weaving tales of humility, loss, and regret. The album closes with Collins’ musing on building worlds out of lies and holding tight to their boundaries. It’s a beautiful send off for the album, itself an ode to those same “immaterial worlds.” Late year releases have a way of getting lost, but Hurt Valley seems like it might search out that status even if we weren’t careening into December. My advice is to hold onto this one and not let it slip away into the sun. Squint hard and you’ll find the thread. Pull it and you’ll be led into the Valley for a good bask in the sun.




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Hurt Valley’s Brian Collins on Tara Jane O’Neil – Peregrine

Any new Woodsist signing is cause for inquiry, but the debut from Hurt Valley is an amber-hued slice of Cosmic Americana that’s ticking a lot of boxes over here. The album channels the windswept, sea salt sanded vision of West Coast country-psych that permeated the best private press issues. He’s finding common ground with everyone from Jim Sullivan to Rose City Band and I couldn’t be happier to have Brian contribute a pick to the Hidden Gems series. Check out the story by hind how Tara Jane Oneil’s excellent debut became an illicit part of his record collection.

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RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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Anna St. Louis

Last year Anna St. Louis released a tape of striking, hushed songs on Woodsist’s small Mare imprint. They hinted at an accomplished songwriting talent and showcased St. Louis’ honeyed drawl, but the tape’s warm emersion in hiss and sunny afternoon vibes didn’t mark it as the kind of release that wrestled for constant attention. So, when her debut proper showed up in the inbox a few months back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sucker punch to the gut it had in store. If Only There Was A River unfolds like a seasoned country-folk record, feeling classic and eternal like the kind of release that’s canon before it ever hits the shelves. It has an ache in its bones that’s raw and real, but St. Louis has wrapped the record in a lush warmth of an heirloom sweater pulled tight against the chill rolling across the plains. She’s teamed up with Kevin Morby and King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas to work the record into a bittersweet brilliance, gathering grey skies and painted sunset hues to color the spare, yet effective ambience around her tales of heartbreak and woe.

Most of the songs on If Only There Was A River have the kind of deep mournfulness and effortless age that seem like they might underscore a key scene in a Cohen brothers film. Her songs feel universal, timeless and torn in the way the catalogs of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Wanda Jackson often do. She’s most like Van Zandt, though, in her use of simple country cool paired with a just enough orchestration that a song feels gilded, but not so much that it feels gaudy. Van Zandt often chafed in this context. The production hung on him a bit loose, like a borrowed suit, but St. Louis is able to work the same juxtaposition to her advantage. She’s the kind that can walk into any vintage store and not only find something that fits well, but make it her own, casting out the ghosts of previous owners on her way out the door.

The album lends itself to multiple listens, touching different heartstrings each time it winds its way around the turntable. St. Louis’ vocals move from whisper to wrench over the course of the record. She’s a master of producing the pang that grips the guts and chokes back tears for undeserving lost loves. While the touchstones of the past cling to the edges of the record, it doesn’t feel like its looking back. She’s earning a place among albums that transcend eras and in that regard she’s positioning herself to stand alongside fellow L.A. troubadour Jenny Lewis as the kind of songwriter who is comfortable in her heartbreak and carving out a sound that eventually belongs only to her. This release is a large step in that direction and a highlight among 2018’s already stellar showing for music. With the arrival of If Only There Was A River it feels like St. Louis has gained a longstanding place among the artists that scar our souls over time.



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Anna St. Louis – “Understand”

Well there seems to be a unanimous love for this today, but hell, “Understand” is a hard song to ignore. St. Louis’ debut tape for Mare / Woodsist was homespun, sounding like a backporch 8-track session that traded in the intimate and spare. Going in with that cassette in mind, the polish on this first peek at her new album, If Only There Was a River, is considerable. The production from Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby has wrangled her beautiful songcraft into the kind of lush country that often fell by the wayside commercially but accrued critical fans and massive cult followings. The label has name checked Townes here, and that’s not far off, but this one’s got more of a Guy Clark vibe (think “She Ain’t Going Nowhere”) mixed with the pristine pop of Nico’s less bracing days.

St. Louis’ vocals ring rich and true, imbuing the song with the kind of classic charm that endears vocalists like Françoise Hardy, Bridget St. John or the aforementioned Nico to a certain swath of filmmakers. The accompanying video is a slow crawl through gorgeous terrain and works as a nice backdrop to the stunner that Anna lays on us all with this song. Gotta hope the rest of the album lives up to this, but with that crew attached and her songwriting skills, it might be safe to rest easy in that department. The LP is out in October, again on Mare / Woodist.



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Bonny Doon

Sure there’s something “hazy and pastoral” about the songs that appear on Bonny Doon’s new LP, Longwave. There’s a soft focus around the edges and an undercurrent of bliss, but there’s something I’d have to call aimlessly suburban about the album. Despite writing a good deal of the record in the quaint sounding town of Mystic Lake, MI, I, as a born and raised Michigan lad have to note that this berg is smack dab in the middle of the state. That leaves it surrounded on all sides by the tedious sprawl of Michigan highways. Now, if you’ve never experienced them I envy you, they’re an almost unrelenting expanse of featureless roadway that boasts no change in elevation to break up the monotony. It’s with these concrete threads in mind that I find the core of Longwave’s charm. There’s something soothing in its laconic presentation of a pop that touches on cosmic Americana, but packages it in the ’90s hangover of Alternative that once scraped the radio waves late at night on my Midwestern car stereo.

On long stretches of these roads I’d often console myself with music and with the right kind of bittersweet sway, those dull drags through big box America blur into a heavy sigh. Bonny Doon have captured the swirl of cracked plastic signs lined in squat strips, eking out an existence swaddled in dulled teals and muddy yellow. They’ve found the soundtrack to the American ground loop of small town existence. There’s a great sense of pop that’s thriving under the hood of Longwave, but its ‘from-the-hip’ nature and sauntered tempos lend well to a kind of nostalgia that dredges up a sense memory for smoke stained bowling alleys, Bob’s Big Boys and that smell of rain right before it breaks. Sure the landscape is dotted with cell towers now, but as Detroiters themselves, Bonny Doon must know that some places hold onto the past as modern ruins – industrial dioramas to the American Dream gone south, haunted with the ghosts of fried egg routines and holding fast to traditions no one agreed on. There are plenty of ennui miners these days, but somehow the smoke rings that dissipate around Bonny Doon’s alt-pop, shaded thick with twang and a half awake, half dreaming sigh, evoke an era lost more than most. This one’s a long-latcher, finding its way to your heart and squeezing softly.




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Anna St. Louis

There’s something inviting, cozy even, about Anna St. Louis’ songwriting. She’s exploring a spare form of folk that’s not at all out of place on a sub-label of the Woodsist Family, but she’s lighting a fire that’s a touch warmer than even their catalog usually embraces. Her songs explore a fingerpicked style that’s immediately bringing to mind Jack Rose, James Elkington and James Jackson Toth. She’s got her ramble and knows how to let it ripple through a song, but St. Louis’ strength comes from expanding the atmosphere with that aforementioned heat – a dusty, homey feeling that makes each song feel as lived in and storied as an old family cabin.

The vocals on First Songs hang in the air with no pretension. They’re unadorned but buzzed around by ringing chords like hummingbirds at dawn. St. Louis has found a way to incorporate a timeless country vision into her folk. When those humid, drenched vibes start to drift off into the horizon she tethers the album down with a fireside simplicity that lets the listener into the room, curled on the floor next to her and sleeping out the sickness with the sound of her pepper and woodsmoke delivery. It’s hard not to fall in love with this one on first listen, and repeated plays really only cement the feeling. This album feels like a scratch demo given a larger audience, so one only wonders what she’ll dig into with a bigger budget and more time.




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Woods

Like many, Woods turned to art and music to process their feelings following the fallout of 2016. Love is Love was recorded in the two months following last year’s election. It feels, and for all intents and purposes, acts as a companion piece to their 2016 album City Sun Eater In The River of Light. Love is Love employs some of the same notes of brass and fuller orchestration, the band itself swollen to six members for the recording. The contrast comes in the tone of the recordings. Oddly, the album that preceded the regime change was darker and a bit more foreboding, whereas this record seems to turn to hope rather than the anger that could, and has often been the reaction.

The majority of the songs on the album speak to an optimism that doesn’t feel naive or tone deaf, rather it’s a message of hope through the dark. They’re clearly acknowledging that a lot of people feel fear and anger and confusion and ultimately lost, but that out of those feelings springs community. The core of Love is Love is a feeling that we can all lean on one another and try to exit the other side of the next four years as better listeners, better friends, better lovers, better parents, better children.

Obviously that message only speaks to how you conduct yourself. There’s a lot that’s out of our hands and that anxiety hangs over the instrumental track “Spring Is In The Air,” an almost ten-minute bout of paranoia and psychedelic anxiety. Woods prove that even their own philosophy of love as the weapon can’t curtail all the external forces. It’s unclear how the concept of America will change – to us, to others, to those that see themselves as winning back or losing their own internal convictions of what country and community mean. As the weeks and months following our own blunder have proven, it’s unclear whether others will follow the same roads or choose the steady hand over reactionary change. For all those questions, Woods don’t have answers, but they have hope and that’s not a terrible start. Someone said that poor administrations mean the art gets better. I don’t for a second take that as consolation, and besides, the art was always good, it’s just a bit more resonant now and maybe we’re paying a bit more attention.




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