Woods occupy a funny place in the latter-day lo-fi pantheon. As the proprietors of Woodsist Records and Fuck It Tapes, the band’s members have released music by a number of brothers- and sisters-in-arms — Vivian Girls, Wavves, Crystal Stilts — who have gone on to greater prominence than their benefactors. Despite peddling a more surface-friendly, easygoing sound than many of those bands, somehow Woods haven’t yet been able to match their peers’ level of name recognition or notoriety. But on At Echo Lake, Woods’ fifth proper album (depending on how you count), one gets the sense that this lack of attention doesn’t bother them.
On their latest, Woods continue to split the difference between Pavement and Neil Young (who often weren’t all that far apart to begin with, especially considering the former’s folksier mid-90s tendencies). Opener “Blood Dries Darker” kicks off strong with sweet, oh-so-slightly distorted vocal harmonies and a creaky riff reminiscent of fellow Wowee Zowee-devotees Blitzen Trapper. From there, the song heads into a swelling closer of stuttering Malkmus-esque guitar lines. “Suffering Season” is a similar highlight, with bright, chiming Byrds-y tones set to a loping pace that perfectly soundtracks a late-afternoon lament while also featuring a nugget of hope in the chorus of “Who knows what tomorrow might bring?”
The album veers between upbeat tunes like those and more meditative fare like “Pick Up,” whose deliberate acoustic strums and soft vocals are undergirded by gentle echoes of static-y feedback/tape effects and the occasionally unobtrusive lead line. “Time Fading Lines” opens up in a similar manner, but eventually segues into an urgent, pealing outro that fades appropriately into the noisier psych-folk jamming on instrumental “From The Horn.” Of course, things aren’t perfect: “Death Rattles” starts to tread ground that’s almost a little too familiar, sounding like a mashup of highlights from Songs of Shame (At Echo Lake’s predecessor) and of Ganglians’ work. Yet the track still sets a great tone for the back half of the album and is followed up by one of the briefest yet strongest tracks, “Mornin’ Time,” which brings to mind the Dead, circa Workingman’s Dead, albeit with wilder backing tape and guitar effects than the Dead themselves ever explored.
As long as the band can keep putting out ramshackle, homespun folk-rock this intimate and likable, whether or not At Echo Lake proves to be a boost to a breakthrough really doesn’t matter so much.