• Woodsist Records
With Light and with Love
(Woodsist Records)

I've never been completely convinced by Brooklyn trio Woods, though they make the kind of music towards which I usually gravitate, an effortless mix of folk, pop, country, and psychedelia. The biggest stumbling block for me has always been Jeremy Earl's voice.

First of all, he knows how to sing, so it doesn't concern technique. He understands his range, and he works within it. It's just that his range is high, like Geddy Lee high (though he sounds more like Jeff Lynne on "New Light"). I don't have an aversion to tenors, though he's closer to an alto. If I didn't know better, I'd mistake him for a woman, though the same could be said of Jimmy Scott, so maybe it's just taken me a while to adjust to the unintentional gender-fuck (which seems downright sexy in "Moving to the Left").

I'm still trying to put my finger on why the same quality that has prevented me from embracing previous Woods albums no longer seems like an issue—or no longer seems like a major issue since Earl hasn't changed his approach one bit. I think it's because he's working with stronger material. Normally, when a lo-fi band moves in a more commercial direction—tighter song structures, fewer offbeat touches—I tend to step off, but in this case, more memorable melodies only serve to highlight the excellent musicianship that has always characterized their catalog.

It's also about timing. I spent the weekend previewing new records with which I felt no connection, including highly anticipated releases from the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and tUnE-yArDs before moving on to With Light and with Love. It was like spotting an old friend in a roomful of strangers. I felt an immediate sense of comfort and relief, though nostalgia surely played a part since it reminds me acts from my childhood, like George Harrison and the Grateful Dead. This is particularly evident in Earl's deft guitar work, long one of the band's strong suits.

I also appreciate the fact that they aren't looking to the coolest artists of the past for inspiration. Though I've always liked peak-era Dead, they'll never be the hot throwback act to emulate. The record even includes one of those ill-advised story songs that were a staple of the classic-rock era. In this case, it's called "Feather Man," and it concludes the album. I've heard longer, more enervating variations, but this one doesn't quite work, and they should've left it off.

Granted, it may be coincidental that I'm hearing references to my parents' music collection, and I'd imagine that I'm older than the band members, but they add to the impression that the album could've been released today, 30 years ago, or even 40 years ago, which is another way of saying there's a timeless quality to With Light and with Love that makes it Woods' most appealing record to date.

Yes, I also noticed the similarity to the Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots."

With Light and with Love is out now on Woodsist (orig release date: Apr 15).