Jeremy Earl’s cellophane tenor crackles with mysticism, whether swathed in melancholy Americana or psychedelia-fueled freakouts. Earl fronts the New York-based band Woods, which began as his solo home recording project in 2005, but has morphed into one of the most impressive and consistent psych-folk acts of the last decade. Currently a five-piece, this month the band is releasing their ninth album, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, a record that pulses with the euphoria, anxiety, ennui and everything in between. This is a collection of songs from men who dream they can eat the sun, who imagine swimming in light—the resulting music is luminous, hazy, and, at times, desperate. Woods chip at the gnarled root of existential problems with their quiet country melodies, but seem dissatisfied if these problems unravel too easily, and so complicate them again with psych-funk interludes or gobs of gossamer harmonies.
The record’s swirling opener, “Sun City Creeps,” rolls across six minutes on smoky brass, carefully plucked guitar lines, and lush clusters of flute. If there was ever a place to make an Anchorman jazz flute joke, this is it. It’s also a place to note that Woods had long clung to tape machines and ramshackle, DIY recording setups; Sun Eater marks only their second venture into a proper recording studio, after 2014’s With Light And With Love. Instead of eclipsing their rough hewn aesthetic, the studio added a sheen to the band’s sound, the way polished wood glints without losing any earthy character. The drums take on a walloping, stately pace on later album tracks like “The Take,” or “The Other Side,” which are both anchored further by humid, bejeweled basslines. Even if you don’t know where these songs are going, you want to go with them. On Sun Eater the journey is the destination; it is quintessential road trip music of the highest order.
No matter how trippy things get, there is a wide-eyed earnestness here that never rescinds, like a housecat living inside a jaguar. Most often this quiet sweetness is associated with 70s, a decade that Earl and crew plumb for material without getting mired down in swampy nostalgia. “Creature Comfort” is the most playful example of this aspect, bedding down honeyed lyrics in a beat that nicks Motown sensibilities in both rhythm and feel. That’s followed by “Morning Light,” a song that channels easy, peaceful feelings into moony strings, as Earl lets his falsetto diffuse even thinner than usual. It’s his singular, flickering voice that serves as a throughline for the record—and the band’s trajectory at large—tying their often disparate sounds into a distinct entity. Even when his vocals are mostly wordless, they present a necessary, gilded framework, like on album closer “Hollow Home,” where a Clapton groove builds into a samba-like sensuality, glimmering from acoustic gentleness into a warbled, manic magnetism.
On Sun Eater, as on the rest of their albums, teasing out specific songs can feel a bit like dipping a spoon in molasses; you can examine a single viscous string, but part of the appeal is that it never fully separates from the shining, sticky whole.
City Sun Eater In The River Of Light is out 4/8 via the band’s own label Woodsist. Get it here.