“Dreaming doesn’t come easy these shadowed days, which is why Strange To Explain by Woods is such a welcome turning of new colors.
It presents an extended moment of sweet reflection for the 15-year-old band, bouncing back to earth as something hopeful and weird and resolute. Like everything else they’ve recorded, it sounds exactly like themselves, but with subtly different shades and breaths and rhythmic feels and everything else that changes, the natural march of time and the intentional decisions of the musicians moving in what feels like an uncommonly organic alignment.
Strange To Explain trades in a different kind of dependability, maintaining a steady connection to the voice on the other side of the record needle. After quickly recording and releasing 2017’s Love Is Love in response to the tumultuous events of their (and our) 2016, Jeremy Earl and company took their time with what came next. Parenthood arrived, as did a short songwriting pause. The band went bicoastal when Jarvis Taveniere headed west. And when they returned to their posts, there on the other side of this particular mirror, they made this, an album that not only catches and holds and shares the light in yet another new way, but recognizes that there’s still light to be caught, which is also no small thing.
A bend beyond the last bend beyond, Woods keep on changing, thoughtfully and beautifully. The colors were always there, like trees blossoming just slightly differently each season, a synesthetic message coded in slow-motion. Recorded in Stinson Beach, the kind of place that seems like an AI simulation of an idyllic northern California coastal escape, the familiar jangling guitars recede to the background. John Andrews’s warm keyboards and twining Mellotron rise around Earl’s songs and dance across the chord changes like warm sunlight off the Pacific. The music feels a karmic landmass away from the creepiness of the uncanny valley.
Just dig into “Can’t Get Out” or “Fell So Hard” and it’s easy to spot the affable hooks and fuzzed-out bass and third-eye winks and fun harmonies that Woods have produced reliably since way back ‘round 2004 (which, in the buzz-buzz world of psych-pop really is a grand achievement, too). But listen carefully, also, to the sound of our (and their) world in transition, the ambient humming of spring peepers behind “Where Do You Go When You Dream.” Especially sink into the intention-setting opening trio of songs, emerging from (and shimmering inside) an atmosphere that could only be made by musicians who’ve been working together for nearly 20 years, as Earl and Taveniere have. It’s hardly a secret language, but you try verbalizing it, let alone communicating in it.
Depending on where in the time-track one stands, it’s their 11th full length (not counting collaborations, split LPs, EPs, and singles), and the 99th release on Earl’s Woodsist label. By any standards, Strange To Explain is the work of a mature band, capable of both heavy atmospheric declarations like “Just To Fall Asleep” and extended-form pieces like the album-closing “Weekend Wind,” unfolding in layers of trumpet and vibraphone and ambient guitars and stereoscopic percussion. There are backwards messages and forward ones, lyrical and otherwise. There are melodies that (at least to me) come back nonlinearly but happily throughout the day when I’m not listening to the music itself, finding some hidden perch and maybe soon transforming into the folk songs of the mind.
For contemporary heads, it can be nearly a full-time job to filter out all the bad energy being blasted through nearly all media channels from every conceivable direction. But not all media channels. These benevolent, Mellotron-dabbed dream-sounds constitute some of the more welcome transmissions on these shores in a Venusian minute, just what my kosmik transom was designed to accept. They’re sure to brighten any desert solarium, LED-lit pod, portable Bucky-dome, eco-fit Airstream, or whatever other cozy dwelling your time-mind is currently occupying.” – Jesse Jarnow