Since its inception, Woods has quietly yet consistently churned out good to great albums on an annual basis. Sure, there are a few bands making worthwhile music that are more prolific (Guided By Voices comes to mind), but I can't think of another prolific band whose albums are all enjoyable listens from start to finish (Guided By Voices does not come to mind). The expectation that each new year will bring an enjoyable new Woods album has caused many critics and listeners to take the Brooklyn quartet for granted, as for better or worse, the majority of the songs they have written would fit right in on any of their albums. Throughout an endless cycle of touring and recording for nearly a decade, Woods have never once drastically changed their sound, but with each successive album, the band refines and polishes the psychedelic lo-fi pop songs that front man Jeremy Earl crafts.
So perhaps it's no surprise that With Light and With Love, a leisurely (by Woods' standards) followup to 2012's Bend Beyond, has the band sounding more polished than ever. Earl's falsetto has always been the most identifiable element of a Woods song, even though it has been buried in effects and crackly production for most of the band's run. Building on the clean sound of Bend Beyond, the new album showcases Earl's growing confidence as a vocalist, as showcased by his eerie, nearly a capella turn in the opening moments of "Feather Man," the album's closer. The band as a whole has adopted an attention to production values wholeheartedly, as evinced by minor details like the singing saw on "Moving to the Left."
There has always been a stigma attached to bands switching from lo-fi to a more mainstream friendly sound, but Earl's strength has always been writing trippy pop songs, and it's hard for anyone reasonable to file a complaint after listening to With Light and With Love. The album isn't likely to convert anyone who has already heard the band and didn't like them, but it's arguably the most accessible entry point for new listeners. Even the nine-plus-minute title-track is presented with the focus of a three-minute pop song, with each note gradually building toward a radio ready chorus.
The twangy opening notes of the opener, "Shepherd," are laid back and lack the urgency of Bend Beyond's ominous opening moments, but the album's relaxed nature feels appropriate given Woods obvious comfort with crafting catchy pop music with an exploratory twist. I wouldn't be shocked if someone told me With Light and With Love was their favorite album or their least favorite. For me, it falls somewhere in between. It's not a bold statement on its own, but doesn't have a single track I find myself wanting to skip, which means it has earned it's place in the band's already impressive canon. Maybe if they take three years off between albums next time, we'll finally realize how good we have it now.