Around 2011’s Rare Forms, Woodsman were more lumberjack than woodsman. It was decent psyched-out jammy stuff, but it was almost goofily vacant at points, like they were still stitching together a bunch of notions. There’s none of that here. With a self-titled record and three years since their last one, you get the sense Woodsman have finally arrived at themselves properly, with this new album driving relentlessly forth like a game of chicken played by two guys on tractors. Ever seen that video of Kim Dotcom driving around an Autobahn with Kimi Raikkonen and some other guy in a trio of souped-up Mercedes bearing ‘Good’ ‘And’ ‘Evil’ license plates? If you took every element of that video seriously (and god knows I wish I did), this is what you’d want to listen to: derivative I don’t care. Few instrumental psych records this year will call for a half-minute palate cleanser of raw jamming to open with and reward them more richly.
Forgive me for putting on my Sermon Hat (especially around Fred Phelps’ death), but for me, it pays to talk simply about instrumental psych (imagine me leaning over a bar at you), because it’s a music that tends to draw out the kind of internal complexities that are endlessly, beautifully boring to anyone else. To me, it’s music made by groups of people for precisely the kind of solitude that can only be bridged by people getting high together; this music hands you an axe and tells you to be careful in precisely the right fashion, skating through modestly engrossing quilts that are somehow both hi-def and drifting out to sea.
There’s a risk in all of this running together, but what Woodsman lacks in highlights and climaxes, it makes up for in flow. There’s a considerable emphasis on groove running throughout, and it makes the whole thing particularly meditative, with the relative brevity providing a kick that makes it more library music jam than bongwater (“Loose Leaf” excluded). I mean that in the sense that it’s stuff that seems to come from deep knowledge of the whole guitar-music thing and is therefore not attempting to forge as much as it is to iron out some new wrinkles in the way people who are still writing Elizabethan sonnets or goth songs in a post-“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” world are. Woodsman is just a great wrinkle. Like, how “Obsidian” states itself and recedes into the wave of “All Tangled Up” — there’s the sense of shifting impressions being collated, felt, and sifted through rather than simply stated and jammed beyond the point of glimpsing (which is the true excitement of jamming, right?), something augmented by the rich, thick, weird gloom that hangs over even the most emphatic moments. Where is the meat in this review? I’m boring myself talking about this record. Am I just skating over it? Good. Refer to above.
It’s precarious to talk about intentionality, but nothing’s more important when it comes to a style of music overpopulated by people who have bought phaser pedals primarily to tip the odds of getting their male ends making music as faceless as their intentions (I come from the town where Tame Impala started, so try and get on board with me here). Maybe it’s kinda blasé to give a record a tick because it seems to appear from the right place in the right way and do the right thing according to those things — “fitting,” I mean to say — not setting sights on a golden horizon but basically appearing and feeling like a Piero Umiliani album made with guitars (the opposite of how Lenny Kravitz approached the world when he was someone your mother had heard of). But what else is there to judge an album on, really? Am I focusing too much on “genre” here? Probably, but in one long, careful leap, Woodsman have gone from student to at least a TA of the field in which they’re practicing, and it seems to have come from spending a long time figuring out what their niche is.
At the end of the closer “Teleseperation,” the sound just disappears, apropos nothing, and it’s sort of like how everyone just walks off at the end of that Robert Frost poem where the kid loses a hand and then dies. It’s over, go back and do this again if you want. You know what they’re doing. I think I feel you guys here, is what I’m saying.