2009 release, the fourth full-length by Woods, Songs of Shame, veers away from the lo-fi guerillas-in-the-mist sound of their previous Shrimper long-player, At Rear House, and presents both 90-second and ten-minute forays into skeletal psychedelia. The idiosyncratic songwriting style and vocalizing of Jeremy Earl is still present in spades on the album. Woods have toured incessantly as a trio over the last 12 months, and the songs on Shame have had their mettle tested.
Like many Woodsist Records alums-- the NYC-based label has also recently issued records by Vivian Girls, Wavves, Crystal Stilts, and Sic Alps-- Woods have spent much of their time together quickly earning respect and fans in underground rock circles. Unlike those previously mentioned groups, however, they've done it by exploring a more pastoral and rustic vein of songcraft rather than loft-ready noise. On their three previous albums-- released in limited editions on a variety of formats across a choice selection of micro-labels-- Woods created a distinctive blend of spooky campfire folk, lo-fi rock, homemade tape collages, and other noisy interludes, all anchored by deceptively sturdy melodies.
Woods' latest album, Songs of Shame, is their most cohesive collection, and it's not only quickly lifted them to front of the Woodsist crew but positioned them to be the group that appeals to those who've previously been uninterested in the 2008-09 crop of lo-fi. As with the best lo-fi albums, Songs of Shame performs some sleight-of-hand by sounding private and homespun yet also not just accessible but immediately lovable. Along the way, Woods can evoke any number of their lo-fi ancestors, from early Guided by Voices to the murkier depths of the Siltbreeze or Flying Nun back catalogs, but they're still able to retain their own immediately recognizable off-kilter character.
The group is centered primarily on the duo of Jeremy Earl (proprietor of Fuck It Tapes) and Jarvis Taveniere (Meneguar, Wooden Wand) and they've designed this record through an affinity for home recording and its attendant cassette culture. As befits an act with a somewhat befuddling discography, many of the recordings on Songs of Shame first appeared last fall on the tour cassette Some Shame. But even for the select few who've heard that release, these tracks have lost none of their charm. On the melodic "Down This Road" or "Born to Lose", Earl's vocals have a strange, slightly unhinged pitch, sounding something like a muffled Neil Young. Drums clatter in the distance as though buried behind drywall, and G. Lucas Crane occasionally adds discreet tape effects to the din. Meanwhile, forceful guitar solos zoom unpredictably in and out of the frame, hazily recalling a time when it seemed every band boasted at least one avid J Mascis aficionado.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Woods album without a few surprises. The most glaring example is the nine-minute guitar jam "September With Pete", which features a cameo from Magik Markers' Pete Nolan. Although the piece is solid and less jarring than some of Woods' past noise experiments, its position early on the LP somewhat dulls the album's momentum. Equally unexpected is another Some Shame holdover, a faithful cover of Graham Nash's "Military Madness", an earnest anti-war ditty that in Woods' hands sounds like Nash and Young strumming away in the treehouse while Crosby and Stills are forced to wait out in the car.
Mirroring the wistful tone of "Military Madness", the album closes with an especially potent trio of songs: "Rain On", "Gypsy Hand", and "Where and What Are You?". The melancholic "Rain On" in particular is a near-perfect dusky gem, underlining the album's subtle themes of loss and disaffection. Despite Woods' humble production values and their fondness for living room ambiance, Songs of Shame 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.
— Matthew Murphy, April 24, 2009