Every episode of the show Curb Your Enthusiasm follows a basic formula. Creator/writer/star Larry David outlines a premise and structures it with bare bones plot points that get fleshed out during live improv. Though their homespun releases don't include Jerry Seinfeld collaborations‚ Woods' latest project takes a similar approach. At Echo Lake serves as a live show's premise‚ its succinct songs serve as the plot points, and the group's improvisational jams provide the bulk of each show's material. On Echo Lake‚ Woods have accepted their inability to recreate their live-show magic on a recording‚ cutting moments that don't translate from the stage to the studio.
The result is brief in length‚ with many songs clocking in around two minutes. But by practicing lo-fi's "less is more" philosophy‚ Woods crafted disciplined folk-flavored songs‚ often accomplishing more in two minutes than they did with jam behemoths like last year's nine-and-a-half-minute "September With Pete." Vocalist Jeremy Earl's intoxicatingly melodic singing smothered in retro studio fuzz is Echo Lake's driving force. His voice alone is captivating‚ as showcased on "Time Fading Lines‚" a track that gradually builds on a sparse foundation of Earl and an acoustic guitar. Fleshed out with drums‚ electric guitar‚ woo-ooh-oohs and Eastern flavor‚ the initially barren track has a captivating climax.
Filled with harmonizing and upbeat arrangements‚ Echo Lake has a carefree surface but also dark undertones. On "Deep‚" hearing Earl sing "sleep goes better without any care in the world" amidst a sea of handclaps sounds celebratory‚ but the tensely quick guitar work that follows suggests his mind may be preoccupied with heavier thoughts. It's hard to transcribe Earl's muddled narrative word for word‚ but topics like blood‚ suffering and death often contrast the laid-back instrumentation. I could be misinterpreting these sinister themes‚ but incorrectly analyzing songs by hard-to-understand men has been a staple since the days of Ozzy Osbourne--why stop now? A dozen listens later I still don't completely understand this deceivingly little album's inner workings‚ but it's worth noting that I haven't tired of trying.