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Album Review
At Echo Lake

At Echo Lake
by Woods


Review Date
26th July 2010
Reviewed by
Paul Gallagher

In the five or so years that this Brooklyn-based band's been plying their trade they've amassed a discography and committed fanbase that would stir jealousy within any indie musician. With some half a dozen full lengths, as well as a smattering of singles and compilation appearances, Woods have had a constant and diligent output. Woods will forever be a band more content with the live format - the arena in which they've forged most of their reputation and ongoing following. Theirs are never going to be the must have record, the smash hit of the summer. Instead, releases by Woods are but a statement of the times - a snapshot catalog of where the band finds itself. Without a doubt, At Echo Lake is one of the more concise library cards they've ever released.

To call At Echo Lake a full-length is somewhat of a misnomer. Clocking in at just the half hour mark, it's only a brief account of the more expansive jaunts for which the band is more known. But within that, there's still 11 tracks - with album single I Was Gone (also released on 7") buried towards the back of the pack. This collection of tracks maps the nostalgia of togetherness, for a band still keen to kick through the leaf litter of music's past and to stamp their own mark on the weathered-pop genre. Comparisons with their last effort Songs of Shame reveal some fascinating changes. Gone is the apparent dependence on melodic structure with interludes of blended tape hiss and noise collages. If anything, Woods have now turned that on its head - the melody is no longer the anchorage or the distraction, and At Echo Lake works with a contrast of brisk arrangements that never quite settle with the ethos of folk, new-Americana slab-city suburbia.

Band members in recent interviews about the release of At Echo Lake have launched rebuttals against their label of being a lo-fi group. As a reviewer I'm definitely guilty of using the term. But one has to wonder where the almost aggrieved attitude comes from, considering Woods have emerged in recent years as a flagship for other groups with a similar ethos around fidelity and an almost unabashed rejection of more mainstream technology. Looking through the artists roster of their own label Woodsist, they definitely share the limelight with artists that can be accurately described as lo-fi. The point might be then that exactly what is lo-fi as an adjective? What is its comparative value to a band to be described as such? In any case, does use of the term lo-fi denote negative values surrounding any band's ability to record? Can it deliberate, rather than a shortcoming? In the case of Woods, they've made a conscientious aesthetic choice not to embrace recording styles or techniques of other bands. As members of Woods have pointed out in recent months, they've never thought to make a hi-fi album - so what is lo-fi to them?

It's all just a distraction to launch a debate on an off-topic and almost meaningless tangent - but there's still an important point to be made. Woods are a band uncomfortable to be pigeon-holed by other people's standards. It could be seen as vanity or an identity crisis, but it's also in many ways refreshing - Woods easily are tired by labels while being immersed in an industry that has a love affair with using them.

At Echo Lake is a line in the sand for Woods, a pause for thought if you will - a punctuated expression of pop that gives rise to their wandering thoughts and enigmatic determination as performance-driven artists. It is not the be all to end all for Woods; it does not reflect them as live performers nor does it reveal any great truths about them.

It's simply the end product of yet another chapter in their increasingly detailed and interesting history. It's by no means deserving of accolades describing it as the album of the year; it's just the album of their year - and that's the point.

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