For the past few years, Woods have been keeping to a path that has seen them gradually leaving behind their four-track roots in favour of a clearer, more direct sound. For the most part that shift in fidelity has been accompanied by a complimentary growth in songwriting confidence, ambition and prowess. With each layer of tape hiss that they’ve shed, they expanded melodies and chords to fill the widening sonic panorama. It’s a familiar road, taken by countless bands as they seek to best frame their developing talents. Sometimes you need to let things dazzle in the fullness of their own light before people really notice them, just ask Grizzly Bear, Girls or even Nirvana.
Bend Beyond isn’t exactly a shiny studio album, but it glows with all the warmth of analogue tape and is filled with songs that show off the Brooklynites’ impressive way with hooks. At its best, it channels all that is great about Beatles-y pop and 70s classic folk rock, with a tinge of psychedelia lingering in the background. The lyrics seem to struggle with the grand idea of human communication, grappling with big questions wrapped in everyday stories. The jams which Woods made their name with are reined in somewhat, fitting more carefully within the songs rather than poking restlessly at their edges. Instead of breaking out and overwhelming, they support the structure as a whole, opening a little space before a chorus comes back in or the bridge turns around again.
Unfortunately, the album is weighted to the front. The subtle line between smooth and too smooth is crossed more often towards the close and we sometimes end up with something that sounds like it’ll change Zach Braff’s life forever. Songs like ‘Something Surreal’ and ‘Impossible Skies’ can feel just a little sickly sweet, maybe robbed of the bite that makes the first few songs so enchanting. They’re not bad songs by any means but their exquisite frames seem a little lightweight in comparison to the opening blast of the title track and the delicious hook of ‘Is It Honest’.
Bend Beyond has some real highlights, among them Jeremy Earl’s voice and the scorching lead guitar of ‘Find Them Empty’, but really it isn’t as consistent as it needs to be. With production like this, there is nowhere to hide the moments lacking in inspiration. Still, its a damn enjoyable listen with some cracking songs.