The Woods: Perennial Psychonaut Folksters Keep On Growing

The Woods are a psychedelic folk band that was formed in New York, that has been producing music since 2004. The band consists of Jeremy Earl on vocals and guitar, Jarvis Tavenier who is a talented multi instrumentalist and production master, Aaron Neveu on drums, Chuck Van Dyck who has played bass for the band since 2013, and Kyle Forester taking care of keyboards and the sax.

The Woods might not fully embrace all the labels they have been lumbered with, having variously been described as ‘freak folk’, ‘psychedelic’, and even, rather curiously ‘lo-fi rock’ which seems to be to be rather a contradiction in terms, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The Woods are their own movement, their own philosophy and on their own label, choosing to make brilliant music without worrying about labels and growing their own way. This is a band on the verge of their 20th anniversary and it both shows in their assured and masterful sound, and doesn’t show at all, in the freshness of their music. Their new album, Perennial is exploding with new growth and new sounds whilst remaining true to its roots.

Now, personally, I adore my freaks and my psychedelics, and as soon as I heard this band, I immediately thought of hipster masters of the sample, The Books, and their escapades in audio cut-up technique. The Woods are a more organic and homegrown enterprise than The Books, but the spirit of spookiness, that uncanny valley mined by literary greats such as Edgar Allen Poe, is infused into their work, like a golden thread of supernatural shimmering beauty. In the topsy-turvey world of The Woods, things lurk in the tracks, looping and turning in on themselves, like a particularly strong dose of magic mushrooms. Their sounds are pure fractals of themselves, revolving and evolving into entire grooves, whole sounds and telling stories of both inner life and outer space.

Whilst this music is organic, it comes from strong roots and grows up towards the light, it is also reaching out there, into the ether, to see what it can summon up and find. Four of the tracks are entirely instrumental, and the rest have long interludes of sound, before the vocals burst through the dream, and summon up visions of flight and flower and frenzied fever dreams.

The band have been on their own Woodist label since 2006, and this seems to have given them the freedom to grow their musical universe in the right direction. I am about as tolerant as the next music-obsessive of bands who sell out, (ask me how I feel about The Clash or Blondie, I dare you…) and listening to The Woods, I was filled with huge admiration at the strength of their creative vision. This band has clearly never dreamed of being anything but true to themselves. The Woodist Festival has been happening since 2009, and looks like being two pure days of woody dreams of the way the world could be and sound if we only let it.

Perennial, the new album by The Woods is out on September 15th and I have been lucky enough to get an early listen. It is a beautiful mix of The Woods psychonaught anarcho-enviro-trippy meditations, infused with a folk sensibility, that invokes their roots in the ’60s psychedelic folk scene, and the ’90s trance rave electro-adventurers that came before them. It is like Vashti Bunyan had a love child with the 13th Floor Elevators and the Electric Prunes, and played it wall-to-wall Folkways compilation albums in the womb. What a beautiful child of the freak out it is!

Another Side has a circus-like hurdy-gurdy beat that almost trips over itself, becoming addictive in its syncopated glory. It is the kind of song you put on loop during a particularly feisty trip. It is an absolutely masterful piece of modern psychedelia. The lyrics are suggestions of sun, flowers, growth, flight and dreams, that don’t intrude upon the sound and the beat. This is real shamanistic sound, the spirit of Castaneda made into audio loops and transmitted across the airwaves.

Between The Past is a haunting number, with enough joy in between the woodwind sounds that wind between the melody, to lift it up and take the sadness out of the sound, despite the ‘moving on’, crumbling relationship theme of the song. The heavy reverb sounds on the keyboard launch the song into psychedelic territory, and the beautiful and sensitive guitar work provides a truly gorgeous counterpoint. This is an ornate and beautifully produced song without too much polish, it retains just enough of its grit to be intriguing, with an almost Beatles-esque nod to Strawberry Fields edge to it.

White Winter Melody feels like an escapee from Laurel Canyon circa 1971. Its instrumental charms capturing the light of a run down that hillside, dripping and dropping in the morning dew. It is one of those half-drunk, tripping from the night before, gentle rain falling perfect encapsulations of a perfect moment in time, preserved in amber and put down in sound. A triumph of creating mood and those good vibrations.

Little Black Flowers is a jewel-like folk song, which is almost a spell to ward off bad trips. “Wrap your lips around the sun … and I’ll show that that this might be having fun,” sings Jeremy, while the band keep that groove going and that sound looping. Those little black flowers bring forth beauty and calmness and yes, fun, as they bloom in sound and in mind. I am not sure I have heard anything more beautiful in a while. You don’t need to be tripping to love this album, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and the music is built in an immensely generous way to accompany the psychedelic and meditative mind..

The slow bluesy lilt of Moving On is pure bottled sunshine, with enough tension to keep the track indeed moving on and break the hypnotic spell of those little black flowers. The Wind Again is an instrumental that has a high desert whistle that starts the track off in a lonesome dove kinda way, sending the sound soaring and flying. There is space and emptiness in the sound, creating air and sky and space, whirling higher and higher until that whistle is distorted and eventually breaks through into a cosmic zone and a satisfying fade out that eventually breaks through into the strong vocal offering of Weep. The Woods know how to play with spaces, dynamics, and the light and dark, fullness and emptiness of sound, keeping the listener literally entranced.

Double Dream is one of those songs that feels as if it has been around a while, just waiting to be written. You can see the sun sparkling off the water on this track, the dew on the flower, the space-like black pupils that betrays the forbidden apple eaten. This is condensed dreaming, distilled heaven, perfect vision. It provides a gorgeous slipway into the closing track of the album, the eponymously named, Perennial.

Perennial fades into view, gradually revealing itself like a shy deer poking its head around a tree not sure if it is wanting to be seen or not. Its instrumental charms peek into the album, almost revealing its secrets, before fading out and walking away. It is a charming twist, to name the album after a song so hidden, so protective of its secrets and possibilities. It made me laugh as I waited for it to take off, walk up to me and demand my attention, leaving me wanting more. Wanting more is always a great place to leave an album.

The Woods’s latest offering, Perennial might not be quite folk, might not be quite trance, not quite antique-electronica, nor pure psychedelia, but perhaps a blend of all those things. What it is, however, is quite quite beautiful and definitely addictive listening. Who needs labels when you have beauty? What this album is, is quite definitely gorgeous.

The Woods are touring in September and November ’23, presumably with their new material, which will be an absolute treat.

Perennial is out September 15th on the Woodist label.

You can watch and listen to the lush track, Between The Past and the beautific White Winter Melody off the new album here:

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