Head here to submit your own review of this album.
It's difficult to put your finger on one specific reason for Woods' continued obscurity; it's likelier that a host of factors are responsible for them having flown under the radar since releasing their debut, At Rear House, back in 2007. Their name, whilst certainly in-keeping with their music's solid folk foundations, is relatively uninspiring. The fact that they've self-released all six of their full-lengths to date through their own label, Woodsist, has likely also contributed to keeping them from the mainstream. It's worth noting, too, that the sound that they've spent the best part of a decade honing is hardly the most singular; the stratospheric success of Bon Iver lent this particular sonic palette a profile that has, inevitably, resulted in a slew of pale imitators in recent years.
2012's Bend Beyond seemed to vindicate the slow-burn approach the band have taken to their career, meeting with an excellent critical reception, so there's a little bit of pressure, you sense, for them to hit the ground running on With Light and With Love. 'Shepherd' opens proceedings in resplendent fashion; it's dripping with that sunny sense of rural Americana that Conor Oberst so ably co-opted on I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning; gorgeously lazy slide guitars fill the gaps between a positively jaunty vocal turn from Jeremy Earl.
As with previous records, there's a tendency to play around with the chosen template; the band take most of their cues from the same Los Angeles branch of folk-rock, but veer from poppier territory - take 'Shining''s chirpy guitars, or the irrepressibly bouncy 'Twin Steps' - to far more experimental efforts, with the nine-minute title track the most obvious example. It's an endearingly ridiculous effort that applies some fairly standard prog ideas to the usual Woods way of working, with furious guitar solos surfacing frequently enough to ensure that there's little lag over the song's sprawling duration.
The record works best, though, when it sticks with Woods' primary predisposition for straightforward pop writing; 'Leaves like Glass' shimmers, with a juddering organ neatly underscoring a prime example of one of the band's most potent weapons; their sharp grasp of the intricate interplay between melodic electric guitars and their gentle acoustic counterparts. 'Only the Lonely' is a clever take on the wonky lo-fi of The Shins' debut, with Earl adopting a James Mercer-aping falsetto to match.
It's the quieter tracks, the ones that fit with that fairly generic 'indie folk' sound that's been so popular the past few years, that end up sounding relatively pedestrian; 'New Light' trundles along unremarkably, and 'Full Moon' shoots for genuine atmosphere, but falls someway short; Earl's vocal flexibility means he's always going to be closest to top form when he's singing on something upbeat.
I think the chances of With Light and With Love being the record to elevate Woods to a hitherto-unreached level of commercial success are pretty slim, but there's no question that the momentum they'd built up from Bend Beyond has remained intact. As this year's laid-back, folk-tinged efforts go so far, Woods haven't quite packed the sort of emotional punch that, say, Beck did on Morning Phase, but they have provided further evidence that they're slowly emerging as masters of their mellow-pop craft.
This is the place you'll find reviews from 405 Readers. To join in, head here.