I Hear Mariachi Static on the Radio
With City Sun Eater in the River of Light, indie rock group Woods have majorly swapped their pallet, upping the ante from delicate folk to some strange new mix of 70’s FM pop, desert rock and mariachi. If you couldn’t tell from the vaguely Dia de los Muertos skull on the cover, they’ve dived headfirst into the TexMex luchadore ring with Calexico and The Bronx. But will they emerge victorious?!
Despite the costume change, Woods is still the same two dudes at its core. So it only makes sense that the neo-classical, delay-washed warblings showcased in cuts like “The Number” have morphed into the pastoral, Crosby Stills & Nash-style cream of “Creature Comfort,” a laid-back boogie complete with period accurate synth sounds and a fat melodic bass line. The Simon and Garfunkel-style vocal melodies that gave everyone a throbbing hard-on for all of thirty seconds in 2009 are still front and center in “Sun City Creeps,” but this time they’re backed by a tapestry of twangy surf rock guitar melodies and newly robust percussion. Funky and mid-paced, “Can’t See at All” noisily stomps down the surprisingly thin line separating T-Rex style cock rock and America (like, the ’70’s band. Not the piece of geography). It’s kind of a stark contrast for a band who rode Bon Iver and Iron & Wine’s folk revival wave straight to the mid-tier of indie rock. Still, it’s refreshing to hear a contemporary alternative band that’s not wholly afraid to get a little sassy and swaggering rather than drift into a gloomy forest of clean guitar and regretful lyrics.
The dusty, rumbling echo of a bridge pick up reverberates off the titular saloon walls of “Hang It on Your Wall,” The artifact from the golden age of country spearheads the record’s profoundly southwestern vibe, alongside some mournful, wordless crooning. Other trappings include some dry pueblo hand percussion in “The Take,” and an only semi-lengthy psychedelic jam in “I See in the Dark.”
The same people that complained about the waifish-ness of Songs of Shame will take umbrage with Woods’ newfound grand arrangements, shiny vocal layers and horns, calling them obnoxious and abrasive in a bad way. Because those people are critics, and that’s what critics do. They point out the obvious and then bitch about it.
But they’re wrong, because Woods have given us a consistent album with a decent variety of sonic textures, something that’s all too rare in the realm of indie rock. Well, at least too rarely pulled off. And it’s fair to say that Woods pull it off on City Sun Eater. There’s guitar interplay and counter melody, things that a pretty sizable group of rockers don’t seem to think are necessary anymore. Vaguely fuzzy, chorus pedal-fueled guitar quilts as songs are getting boring. Nasally-voiced dudes that can’t (or refuse to try) to sing have a shelf-life. Besides, at least Woods were actually kind of fun to listen to, even when they were far more like the dour, lo-fi folk rock that characterizes millennial hipster-dom. At least back then they had wacky guitar acrobatics where other bands just settled for the same six barre chords over and over again.
City Sun Eater in the River of Light is like a strange theme park ride. Sure, the cardboard figures are a little hokey, but you get to detach from life and scream and laugh in a good way, and emerge on the other end at least momentarily bemused. 7.5/10, would mariachi again.