At Echo Lake

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Since forming in 2005, Woods have been churning out albums, EPs, and singles at such a brisk pace that it’s not surprising the band’s music changed quickly as well. At Echo Lake is some of the group’s most focused and accessible music -- relatively speaking, of course. Woods still love lo-fi production values as much as they love jangly guitars and sweet harmonies, but this time the band puts its pop instincts and classic rock fetishes at the forefront. At Echo Lake isn’t just folky rock, it’s straight-up folk-rock in the tradition of the Byrds and early Grateful Dead. “Blood Dries Darker” opens the album with a melody so sunny that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t recorded in California, while “Mornin’ Time” evokes the Dead’s hazy warmth, albeit surrounded by billowing clouds of distortion. If there was any doubt that Woods have the lo-fi aesthetic down to an art, this album proves the band is in control of its noise instead of vice versa. “Pick Up” uses sound effects and subtly static-laden synths to add space and emotion, and the gorgeous, chiming “Suffering Season” shades its pristine melody with almost imperceptible tape manipulations courtesy of G. Lucas Crane, who also worked on the band’s previous album, Songs of Shame. Indeed, there’s something very precise about At Echo Lake, particularly in Jeremy Earl's vocals and the arrangement of “Time Fading Lines,” which manages to add a buzzing banjo/sitar without feeling retro. Even when the band channels the Byrds and Sonic Youth on “From the Horn,” which sounds like “Eight Miles High” meets “Dirty Boots,” Woods never come across as overly indebted to their ‘60s or ‘90s influences. Though At Echo Lake recedes into static on later songs like the moody ballads “I Was Gone” and “Deep,” it just underscores that the album’s focus isn’t too contrived. These are some of Woods' finest songs, and the freshness of their melodies and Earl's voice makes them among the most sophisticated and transporting bands of the lo-fi vanguard.

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