For their self-titled, debut release, Tallahassee, Fla. band The Woods decided to package all the CDs in the pages of old books. With an initial "pressing" of just 40 discs, the group glued together the pages of used thrift-store books, cut a hole for the CDs and stamped the band's name on the cover with a typesetting machine. It's the same kind of inspired care they took with the music itself. The Woods is an enchanting collection of songs rooted in acoustic folk music, with pleasantly unpredictable turns toward more experimental soundscapes.
As a band, The Woods is a sort of collective, fronted by songwriter Ian Dudley. It took him two years to produce the album, using a rotating cast of what he describes as "everyone I knew that could play an instrument or sing." Nearly 30 people eventually helped with the project, recording the music in Dudley's bedroom.
The Woods opens with a tinkling music box, chirping birds and a voice telling us, mysteriously, that "Elvis had been dead for 30 years." Recorded by Dudley's grandfather, it sets the scene for a wildly imaginative story about a boy who floats away on his bed, traveling across the ocean before landing on Rabbit Island. There, says Dudley, he searches for a friendly face, but finds only strangers and salt water.
The story was inspired, oddly, by a leaking air conditioner.
"At the time my a/c was leaking badly," says Dudley. "So the concept of poor household maintenance leading to an oceanic, dreamlike escape was very appealing. I did not necessarily write the songs in chronological order; I just wrote them with the overall story in mind and they fell in place."
The Woods is a creaky recording that captures how one might feel adrift and alone at sea. The production is lush, with multi-layered, angelic harmonies and a dense tapestry of ambient sounds. It's a rewarding headphone album with plenty of sonic surprises spilling from one track to the next.
On "The Baleen Plate Lullaby" Dudley channels the boy lost on the ocean. "If I was him I would be pretty scared out there alone in the dark" says Dudley. But "he's got the moon, he will be alright. The song is essentially about finding comfort anywhere and that there is a really old nightlight in the sky called the moon and the whales can sing lullabies just as well as your mom."
Dudley has assembled a touring cast for The Woods and will be performing from Florida to New York through the Summer.
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This review originally ran May 13, 2008.