It’s unlikely Woods will ever make a poor album. On a near yearly basis we’re treated with another tuneful release from the Brooklyn four-piece, almost all equally good. Even if they cleaned up notably since the early lo-fi days, they’ve never steered far from the initial path. And although it’s easy to write them off as a band favoring consistency over change, every album leaves its own unique imprint if you give them enough time and dedication. Woods found their sound early on, and the fine-tuning they’ve made over their eight years of existence is enough to keep their audience happy. As repeatedly stated in interviews, this is not a band with any grand stated mission. They are quite content with the scope of things and have no deliberate attention of growing bigger. With that said, people don’t seem to realize that Woods holds one of the most impressive discography of any psych-folk band of the last decade. You could argue that they are a band with a borrowed sound, that they don’t add enough to make them stand out, but as with every great band that walked the face of the earth, their collective strength lies in writing quality songs year-in year-out.
As I’ve stated numerous times, it’s nearly impossible for me to pick a favorite Woods release, but as early singles “Moving to the Left” and “Leaves Like Glass” showed, With Light and With Love is more direct, tightly focused and carries more melodic punch than any previous release. Whether you consider that as a good thing is a different matter since With Light perhaps also stands as their least adventurous. How high you’ll end up ranking it, boils down to what you want from a Woods record; a wish for a deeper dive into the rabbit hole, or furtherance towards cleaner pop songs. With Light and With Love is, to my knowledge, the first Woods album recorded in a proper studio, and the elevated production along with a determination for writing sharpened melodies, certainly makes it their most disciplined work. Already on 2012’s Bend Beyond, Woods started their subtle evolution towards a cleaner sound. They continue this here and have in the process created a collection of fairly conventional pop songs without sacrificing anything in the process. And while I do miss some of Sun and Shade’s – and to some degree At Echo Lake’s – more jammy, elastic jaunts, I also believe their subtle but unmistakable shift towards late-90’s psych-folk– e.g. Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips – bridges nicely with their preordained 60’s sunshine-pop.
There is an additional care and time gone into these songs, which perhaps explains why we – for the first time – had to wait two whole years for a new Woods record. Songs like “Full Moon” , the irresistibly catchy “Moving To The Left” and the gorgeous “New Light” are amongst their surest hits, and then there is the sub ten minutes title track that extend an invitation to the psychedelic free-playing of their past and is typical of everything I find vital about the band. “Only the Love” is a potent adoption of early The Shins, and the slow-paced acoustics of “Feather Man” closes the album on a dissonance of oscillating bells. Still, after living with this album for the past week, the shimmering, organ-heavy “Leaves Like Glass” proves to be the albums most impressive moment.
Despite crystal-clear fidelity, I don’t believe With Light and With Love will spread Woods further into the public’s eye. And they most likely never will reach the fame of some of their contemporary counterparts. But for those who already have taken a lot of pleasure from Woods impressive body of work, there should be plentiful on here to intensify interest. Their albums will never compete with the experience of catching them live, but here, they’ve plenty new impressive material to work with.