Woodhands – [Album]

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Isn't it funny how trends are able to reoccur in pop music? In the 1980s, synth-pop ruled the airwaves as bands like Depeche Mode, Flock Of Seagulls, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Devo (among hundreds of others) made the most of their Casio-tones and produced primo plasticized pop. All of that was erased at the dawn of the Nineties as rock asserted control over the radio again but, as time has passed and the sour taste of synths has faded, small pockets of bands disinterested bowing to the rock gods have begun reappearing.

As straight-faced as they may have claimed to be though, guitar-free bands have never come through as un-ironically or fully-formed as Woodhands does on its' sophomore effort, Remorsecapade.

From the opening downturn of “Pockets,” Woodhands simultaneously recalls all of the vintage synth-pop and dance club heavies of the Eighties – Echo & The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Flock Of Seagulls, Devo, Duran Duran, the Human League – as if they were never gone. There is no warm-up, Remorsecapade just begins as if the music was cut off in mid-sentence nineteen years ago and picks up almost exactly where the bands left off in 1991. Between stuttering synths and more modern electronic footnotes, drummer Paul Banwatt battles out steady and constant beats so solid you could set your watch by them and, in front of that exploding plastic inevitability stands singer Dan Werb; the voice and personality of Woodhands. Regularly waxing sleazy in a way that bends typical gender roles – when he spits the words “I need affection” in “CP24,” it's a little comical given the synthetic backdrop, but also a little hooky in the band's practice – but comes off a little insecure as the miniscule cracks in his voice make the singer's hyper-masculine pushes seem put on and that's the thing that will drag the skeptical through because they want to see him crack. He doesn't though, and Werb ends up winning them over because of it.

As the record progresses, Woodhands get progressively darker (“Coolchazine” has some great great, unhinged vocal performances) and more conflicted as they try to justify the disparity between their songwriting and instrumentation. The darkest moments of all come when Woodhands try to bend to the conventions of the genre they're working in (check out “I Should Have Gone With My Friends,” “Dissembler” and “When The Party Is Over” for a captivating discourse) but end up pushing in new and interesting directions because they're just not that flexible; every time the band tries to be unconventional, they end up inserting a little more of their own personalities into the songs with the exertion. Because of that, listeners discover all-new possibilities for a genre that has never favored personal identity. While some would say it's a mawkish failure but, realistically, the structure of and epiphanies produced by Remorsecapade is its greatest triumph for the band; here, Woodhands adopts rock growth conventions (darker focus on growth has always been commonplace on sophomore albums) but bent it in such a way that makes it unique. On Remorsecapade, the developing personality of Woodhands really shines through.



Woodhands' video for “CP40” from Remorsecapade.

Further Reading:
Ground Control's interview with Dan Werb.

will be released on March 23, 2010 through Paper Bag Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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