Considering Woods’ tendency to lurch forward rather than “bend beyond” the stylistic strictures of their previous material, the Brooklyn folk rockers’ latest, Bend Beyond, plays out according to conservative expectations — albeit in particular ways. With its more recognizable melodic arrangement, weaved together by mutually incorrigible yet ever-present strands that thread through it, the album certainly fits into a teleology set specifically by 2010’s At Echo Lake, yet it also emphasizes the country rock-tinged brashness of 2011’s Sun and Shade. In imposing a logic of continuity, then, to Woods’ fast-growing catalogue, the new album fits comfortably into a latter period, effected by the break manifested way back in 2009’s Songs of Shame, the album that finally garnered the band its more than well-earned recognition, and initiated in earnest by its follow-up, where jerky, free-form pastiche decidedly gave way to complementary compositional structures and melody.
Therefore, long gone are any pretenses toward the avant-garde flirtations with tape music, which were most obvious on Woods Family Creeps (a quasi-side-project anyway). And, at least for the time being, it seems there is no going back: as has readily been stated by various members of the band, for the first time, Jeremy Earl and company have seen it fit to give “proper” production its due. But it isn’t as obvious as you’d think upon casual listens; rather, the songs at times sound like the product of temporal labor as opposed, however lightly, to the more spontaneous kind. Which is to kind of say: Woods’ well-known, and loved, quirks haven’t been sacrificed altogether as much as they’ve been given shape.
Although much of Bend Beyond is colored by the dark and slightly somber hard-edged folk rock of its first few songs — both the euphoric “Is It Honest” and the painfully beautiful “It’s So Hard” sound like leftovers from the Sun and Shade sessions — “Cascade,” an early instrumental interlude, sends the band off into somewhat newer territory. The following track, “Back To The Stone,” starts a run of Byrds- and Beach Boys-esque psychedelic, lo-fi-inspired jangle rawk renderings that extends all the way to the finish: “Lily” is about as close as Woods will probably ever get to invoking The White Album and getting away with it, while “Size Meets The Sound” and “Impossible Sky” will find no better home than at some revivalist jamboree. All things considered, the latter half of Bend Beyond owes as much to its predecessor as to the sunny — and psychotropic-ally suggestive — vibes felt on At Echo Lake.
So no, Bend Beyond doesn’t involve any major turn away from what Woods have previously offered and for which many of us hold them in high regard. By now, it seems we should all know the routine: another year, another solid release (or two) from Woods — it almost goes without saying. Thankfully, Woods is the kind of group you would never want to hear drastically change anyway.