Saturday, November 03, 2012

Song of the day

"Bend Beyond", by Woods.

I hope it's just a phase I'm going through, but some of the more highly regarded recent releases from well-known, and in some cases loved, artists have been putting me in mind of the phrase "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff". Those that jump readily to mind are by Cat Power, Tame Impala and Best Coast. There are others. The Best Coast album, for example, demonstrates what happens when an artist who makes an early impression based on a particular sound, or a particular transmogrification of the zeitgeist (does that even mean anything?), steps out from behind the veil of that sound and reveals ... nothing special.

Woods are a band that have made sounding ramshackle and slap-dash something of an (anti-)art form. So the signs weren't good when they announced that their new album would be made in an actual studio. Would Woods, too, throw out the baby with the sonic bathwater? Well, the answer is, well and truly, no. "Bend Beyond" reveals that, even when Woods' sound has been (relatively) cleaned up, they still have something going for them. That something is a keen ear for a melody, a turn of phrase, whatever is that X factor that goes into making a song memorable.

The title track ("Bend Beyond" -- well, duh), I think, bears out my earlier description of Woods as occasionally coming across (in a good way) as a kind of dishevelled Mercury Rev. What passes for the chorus is so gorgeous that lesser artists (or more sensible ones, perhaps) would have milked it for all it was worth. Woods, on the other hand, give us a couple of fleeting glimpses of it before spending most of the remaining four minutes teasing out some well-wrought guitar shenanigans. (It is not surprising that the first live version I found on YouTube runs for 10 minutes.) Then we get two more runs-through of that gorgeous chorus, as if to confirm that we didn't just imagine it. And that's it. It sounds better than it reads on paper, mainly because it is impossible to describe the (again, relatively) fragile beauty that the song is exuding.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that it's not even the best track on the album. There is an astounding three-song sequence in the latter part of the record that has gone a long way towards convincing me that Woods are, as of this moment, the best thing going.

That live version of "Bend Beyond" I mentioned? It's here.