As by far the most jam oriented and Grateful Dead influenced of their peers, Woods are also notable for being something like leaders of the current retro influenced psychedelic/garage rock/freak folk scene of bands like Real Estate, White Fence, The Black Angels, Thee Oh Sees, Crystal Stilts, and others. Between their singer's high pitched, nasally voice and a penchant for leaving in the weird stuff and loose improvisations on their studio albums, Woods have always struggled with the same problem the Dead used to: how to craft excellent studio records but leave in all the interesting bits and long song lengths from their inspired live shows.
The band's last record, At Echo House, saw Woods deliver a short, focused collection of memorable tunes. It's the band's most accessible and immediately enjoyable yet. Ironically, this also means it's the least interesting. There's a homemade, scattershot brilliance to even the band's debut, At Rear House, which works because of those odd left turns and rambling instrumental parts. The band seem to have felt the same way, since Sun and Shade brings this stuff back with two long tracks though the majority is still in the slightly trippy folk/rock style they perfected on At Echo House. This time out on the pop tunes, however, singer/guitarist Jeremy Earl pushes his voice toward further traditional prettiness, with his eerie, melancholic delivery on 'Wouldn't Waste' making it one of the record's most memorable tracks.
While all of this makes Sun and Shade the most complete demonstration of what makes Woods such a great band, it also makes Sun and Shade jumbled and only partially satisfying. It's jumbled because the stark difference between a short pop song like 'What Faces The Sheet' and the seven minute krautrock jam 'Out of the Eye' is never resolved by any tracks which bridge the gap between the two. Hell, it almost feels like someone slipped a couple live tracks onto a studio album to see if anyone would notice. Sun and Shade is only partially satisfying because you don't get quite enough of either side of the band's sound, and what you do get isn't always top-of-their-game material. No pop tune here bests what they've done before, while 'Sol y Sombra' never justifies its nine minute run time, sounding for all the world like an aimless Animal Collective improvisation circa Sung Tongs or Campfire Songs.
Which is also to say, Sun and Shade may be jumbled and it may be only partially satisfying, but it is at least more interesting than At Echo Lake, which is either a good thing or bad thing depending on what you want from this band.
3 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5