Among the first things one notices about the Promise Ring's big breakthrough album on Anti-Records are the beautifully crisp, metallic photos of plants in a greenhouse shot by photographer Chris Strong. Strong is an amazing photographer who has worked with Owen, American Football, and Hey Mercedes, among others, and whose full, glossy work on Wood/Water delivers the message that the tone on this album is going to be different than previous Promise Ring works. Musically, the Promise Ring is charting new waters here. Die-hard fans may be stretched to their limits with Wood/Water, as it is nothing like previous releases, except for Davey von Bohlen's familiar lisp. So many effects are at work on this album, as influences from roots rock, emo, alternative pop, and multiple other genres are heard on the 12-song disc. A track like "Stop Playing Guitar" highlights von Bohlen's dangling storytelling and emphasizes the relaxed chorus. Surprisingly enough, other tunes sound quite similar to anything one might hear on alternative radio -- not in some cheap, commercially viable manner, but it wouldn't be surprising if these songs chart well on college radio. Wood/Water features hooks aplenty, vocal manipulations, and quite a few mellow numbers to boot. Gone are the poppy, blissful, upbeat days of 30° Everywhere and Very Emergency. If the first few tracks don't convince someone of the change in the band's direction, just wait until the 11th song, "Say Goodbye Good," which comes along with a sequence of strings, keyboards, a vocal soloist, and a choir. While the band is surely quite comfortable with what it's doing at this point and while it's easy to appreciate the pop sensibilities, harmonies, and such, in the end the album comes up short. Though Wood/Water starts out lukewarm, there is hope that it will peak. Instead, it continues with a subdued feel, alienating die-hard fans and not doing anything daring enough to attract new ones.
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AllMusic Review by Kurt Morris