With a title like At Echo Lake, the fifth album from New York’s Woods intimates a modern rock aesthetic fully informed by historical manifestations of teenage along with a concomitant feel for the specifics of time and place. The distance between 2007’s At Rear House and 2010’s At Echo Lake may at first seem only semantic but it more properly represents a move from a kind of informal back porch jam ethos to a fully-committed vision of the infinite possibilities of group playing.
Over the past few years Woods have established themselves as an anomaly in a world of freaks. They were an odd proposition even in the outré company of vocalist/guitarist/label owner Jeremy Earl’s Woodsist roster, perpetually out of time, committed to songsmanship in an age of noise, drone and improvisation, to extended soloing, oblique instrumentals and the usurping use of tapes and F/X in an age of dead-end singer-songwriters. Recent live shows have seen them best confuse the two, playing beautifully-constructed songs torn apart by fuzztone jams and odd electronics.
At Echo Lake feels like a diamond-sharp distillation of the turbulent power of their live shows, in much the same way that The Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” single amplified and engulfed the planetary aspect of their improvised takes. Some of the material here – the opening “Blood Dries Darker”, the euphoric “Mornin’ Time” – is so lush that lesser brains would’ve succumbed to the appeal of strings and horns but At Echo Lake is more Fifth Dimension than Notorious Byrd Brothers, nowhere more so than on “From The Horn”, a track that is as beautiful in its assault on form as “Eight Miles High” or Swell Maps’ “Midget Submarines”. But despite the instrumental innovation that the album heralds – G. Lucas Cranes’ psychedelic tapework on “Suffering Season”, guest musician Matthew Valentine’s harmonica and modified banjo/sitar on “Time Fading Lines” – At Echo Lake is all about the vocals.
Woods’ secret weapon is the quality of Earl’s voice, osmosing the naive style of Jad Fair, Jonathan Richman and Neil Young while re-thinking it as a discipline and a tradition. Here he is singing at the peak of his powers, in a high soulful style that is bolstered by heavenly arrangements of backing vocals. At Echo Lake feels like the transmission point for teenage garage from the past to the future. Deformed by contemporary experiments, bolstered by magical traditions from the past, it’s the sound of now, right here, At Echo Lake.
"Songs of Shame performs some sleight-of-hand by sounding private and homespun yet also not just accessible but immediately lovable... has that almost subliminal ability to make one want to move in to listen more closely. And once you've been drawn in for a good listen, it becomes difficult not to want to come back for many more." -Pitchfork

"Tons of great acts played the Woodsist/Todd P. showcase at Mrs. Beas (No Age, Crystal Stilts, The Oh Sees and Blank Dogs just to name a few), but the one that struck the biggest chord with me was this Brooklyn group. Crafting tight and beautifully lighthearted ghostly folkish songs — they are one of the finest bands playing in the unbelievably deep Brooklyn scene. I’ve seen them a bunch, and each time I get more excited about their sound." MTV.com, Buzzworthy

Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts began their 2014 release Content Nausea with the repeated refrain, “everyday it starts – anxiety!” And while that track left off at just its start, Human Performance dives in, picking apart the anxieties of modern life with the band’s most innovative and emotional collection of songs to date. Not that that’s the whole story.

“The final product of this album is Exhibit A that we made it through the shit, solved the problem, had the chuckle, took the piss, made up with the other guy, and got home in one piece,” laughs bassist Sean Yeaton.

Whereas other Parquets Courts albums were recorded in a matter of days or weeks, for Human Performance the band took an entire year; it’s the first LP that finds all four band members contributing songs.

Human Performance brings expansive sonic experimentation and shining melodic introspection onto matters of the heart, matters of humanity, of identity. “I told you I loved you, did I even deserve it when you returned it?” singer/guitarist Andrew Savage wonders on the title track. It’s also their most pop-oriented collection yet, coming only months after the release of the largely instrumental Monastic Living EP; a record that was actually made at the same time.

“In a way, Monastic Living was like a palate cleanser for us as a band,” explains singer/guitarist Austin Brown, who produced the entire record, and mixed it in Austin at Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi, “maybe a return to our roots of improvising together, and being a bit more free, and seeing what kind of new sounds we could make.”

The recording sessions started at Justin Pizzoferrato’s Sonelab in Western Massachusetts. Some of it was also made with Tom Schick and Jeff Tweedy at The Loft, Wilco’s visionary studio in Chicago, but the majority of Human Performance was made at Dreamland Studios, a massive upstate NY pentecostal church where records have been made by The Breeders, Dinosaur Jr, and the B-52s (including “Love Shack”). They spent three weeks straight there, writing by day and recording with Pizzoferrato by night.

The result is a record with a palpable sense of fragility. “The process of writing and recording Human Performance, for me, was a fairly uncomfortable confrontation with my emotions,” Savage says. “Emotions I don’t think I’ve fully explored in my life, artistic or otherwise.”

Human Performance is fittingly laced with as much static as softness, with tight-wound percussion pushing along meandering, wistful melodies. There are dazed and disoriented earworms, echoing group chants, downtempo ballads with wired riffs. Lovers leave, existential confusion replaces them, weeks pass, the J train rolls by.

The record leads with “Dust”, a 4-minute opener that takes the mundane daily duty of sweeping the floor and turns it into a frantic, obsessive call for action. “Dust is everywhere … Sweep!” they drolly repeat, before their cyclic back beat gives way to explosive, everyday city sound of car horns.

Savage says “Human Performance” is his most personal song on the record, a solemn musing on love drifting away, a picture-perfect memory of the beginning of things and a hazier recollection of the ending. “It didn’t feel right to be shouting, barking,” he says, reflecting on his tendency to really sing for this first time on this album. “I think a lot of people are attracted to a sort of cerebral side of Parquet Courts, in the lyricism. There has always been the emotional side of our band, which I think has always been an important balance, but Human Performance marks a point where the scales have tipped. I began to question my humanity, and if it was always as sincere as I thought, or if it was a performance. I felt like a malfunctioning apparatus. Like a machine programmed to be human showing signs of defect.”

Across six years, four full-length albums, and two EPs, Parquet Courts have always littered their lyric sheets with question marks, interrogating the outside world to varying degrees. Light Up Gold considered peanuts versus Swedish Fish, an introduction of their sharp, young wit and language of mundane, everyday NYC imagery. Sunbathing Animal channeled that language into noisy punk philosophy, raising wide-view questions about agency versus captivity, choice versus freewill. Content Nausea wondered about anxiety and emotional deterioration under the age of big data, in an aptly self-aware way: “And am I under some spell? And do my thoughts belong to me? Or just some slogan I ingested to save time?” And with Human Performance—their fifth album and second for Rough Trade—the question marks get turned on themselves more than ever.

“There is a lot of darkness, and general anguish being worked out on this record,” Brown adds. “But it ends kind of peacefully, kind of accepting that you can’t do much about it.”



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