Until he formed Babies and went solo, Kevin Morby played bass in the semi-under-the-radar indie folk band Woods. Since his work with the band is important in narrative from sideman to frontman, we had a writer who loves them explain the allure of Woods. We also made a playlist of essential Woods songs at the bottom of the page.
Woods, with their love of knit hats, flannel, and an unabashed love for the Grateful Dead, are pretty much your prototype indie rock folk band. And that’s even before you consider that they run a label called Woodsist, host an annual folk festival in Big Sur (in partnership with a group called “(((folkYEAH!))),” because, folk yeah!), and release an album full of falsetto-led dingy, weird, and spacey psychedelic folk rock nearly every year. By all measures, this is a band that could be the punchline for every single joke you could ever think of that involves the word “hippies.” (“How do you know a member of Woods has been staying in your house? He’s still there!”)
Yet instead, Woods’ pure embrace of being who they are has helped them transcend whatever assumption you want to throw on them, and it’s caused the group to be one of the most consistent and successful indie rock bands of the last decade.
Woods has seen a rotating handful of members since 2005 (which includes the now successful Kevin Morby, who used to play bass), but the band’s output is primarily the brainchild of Jeremy Earl, who’s used different members for nearly every release. They’ve never been one for grand statements, and the consistency of their records is the best way to illustrate that. Overall, describing Woods’ music is difficult. Music writers will give you buzzwords like “spooky” or “tape friendly” or “ethereal.” Don’t get me wrong, Woods does make this kind of music—but the best way to describe it is, simply, music for tree houses.
With a band as prolific as Woods, it’s difficult to know where to begin. They’ve grown in sound over their career, and although there have never been any big, sweeping changes from record to record, there’s a clear distinction in sound between a Woods record in 2017 versus a Woods record in 2005. We’ve divided the discography into three sections, which should provide some sort of map for your listening.
At Rear House (2007)
As is the case with most bands, the first two records from Woods are strange and sound a bit like they’re stuck together with scotch tape. 2005’s How to Survive In + In The Woods and 2007’s At Rear House pair nicely together, because they’re hissy, tape friendly records that are complicated and, at times, visceral. Earl’s distinct falsetto is compressed and twisted, and sounds a bit more aggressive in this stranger context. Even though these are the group’s first two records, I recommend diving in after you start to understand what kind of band Woods is.
Songs of Shame (2009)
At Echo Lake (2010)
Sun and Shade (2011)
Bend Beyond (2012)
Woods aren’t a jam band. Instead, they’re a jam band with purpose. These four records are at the heart of the group’s career, and demonstrate the group’s ability to walk that extremely difficult sweet spot between lo-fi and pop friendly folk. Without the talent and vision of Earl, these albums could quickly lose their focus and each become their own sprawling folk messes. But instead, the records are tight, with each clocking in shy of 40 minutes long, and Earl’s falsetto is focused and full. From the Graham Nash cover of “Military Madness” to the sweeping beauty of “Impossible Sky,” these are songs that reach for something but aren’t afraid to not know what that something is.
With Light and with Love (2014)
Love Is Love (2017)
Late career Woods is a lot more radio friendly. They stopped recording straight to tape and ventured into a real studio. With that, some of the early charm of the flimsiness of their recordings is lost, but the sound is much cleaner. Earl’s message has also evolved, specifically with Love Is Love, which is unabashedly political. However, when Woods get political, it’s in the most hippie way possible—telling you to love your friends like you love your family, and just generally be a good person.
There’s magic in the simplicity of this music. Woods is a band from New York. They make songs that will probably make you sad. They’re the antithesis of every cliché you’ve ever had about the New York City rock scene. There are no leather jackets. There are no cigarettes in alleyways. There are no stories that still persist because of the existence of the Strokes. This is nostalgia-fueled folk rock that doesn’t try to be anything but what it is.
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