Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light

When GraceNotes returns “Unclassifiable” as an album’s genre, it’s usually the sign of a band getting too cute in declaring its individuality. Brooklyn head-trippers Woods are among the few artists who’ve truly earned such a categorization. The Ethiopian jazz horns and backbeat of the six-minute opener “Sun City Creeps” from its newest album could easily have been lifted directly from the Ethiopiques series. Next comes the near-miss ’70s soul classic sound of “Creature Comforts” and its Numero Group vibe. Just when you think you might have things figured out, the lifting steel guitars of “Morning Light” kick in. Along the way are just enough bongos and spongy basslines to reel in a few disoriented jam band fans as well. Unclassifiable indeed.

Woods has been at this game for awhile – City Sun Eater in the River of Light is the quintet’s ninth LP, although only the second time they’ve seen fit to enter a proper studio. While the aesthetic remains decidedly homespun, its tidy production is a far cry from the band’s lo-fi cassette beginnings. At times I’m reminded of Yo La Tengo’s mining of vintage grooves, although Woods delivers them with a more full-bodied sound. The Beta Band sans electronics might also serve as pithy shorthand.

It’s hard to imagine cries of sellout as long as Woods’ reference points remain so obscure, Jeremy Earl’s creamy tenor continues to serve as a quirky barrier to entry, and the band still releases its far-flung ramblings on Earl’s own label. The Ethiopian horns return later on City Sun Eater to less engaging effect, but very few of the band’s excursions fall flat – even the wah-wah pedals of closer “Hollow Home” ring true.

Woods sums up its own ethos on “Politics of Free” when Earl croons, “In a world of shit, let’s tune out for tonight.” Just be sure to tune in long enough to check this one out.

City Sun Eater in the River of Light