There isn’t much that differentiates Woods’ latest album At Echo Lake from their last album Songs of Shame. This isn’t a negative criticism; they have a unique style, and there’s no reason to change simply for the sake of change. The last time I wrote about them, I used Pavement — especially Wowee Zowee — as a touchstone in order to say that, while Woods didn’t sound like Pavement, they definitely had the same energy. The spirit of the music is the same in both bands as well: an odd, slightly-off take on classic rock and psych pop. With Pavement, those weird ends are achieved by filtering those genres through punk and bands like the Fall. For Woods, that off-kilter feeling is achieved in a less incongruent way and that results in a more natural, less contradictory kind of music. This feeling is still certainly there in At Echo Lake, though a bit less ramshackle. Not polished in any way, but maybe more deliberate, more careful.
One of the things that I thought of though while listening to At Echo Lake is why are they making music like this in 2010? Not why are they making modernized psyche pop, but why make it lo-fi? As I noted before, this is an aesthetic choice, not a genre, so what motivates that choice? There are of course contingent concerns — a desire to sound like the music of a prior time or a desire to get away from the complications of modern recording, but there are perhaps deeper reasons as well. One of the things I thought about is that the current lo-fi movement came after a period where large, orchestral bands were in vogue. It seems like this could be a — conscious or unconscious — response to the deluge of brass and string sections in the indie rock of the earlier part of the decade.
Beyond that as well, the current lo-fi movement picks up on cultural themes of going back-to-basics. In the wake of the over-bureaucratization of culture and the complex, technological dominance of modern life — there’s a slowly growing realization that the way we live is unsustainable. Your pronunciations don’t have to be as dire as James Howard Kunstler to feel that perhaps we’ve overextended our reach economically, socially and militarily, and the current revolt against modern life that is winding its way through our culture in numerous ways — from community gardens to the Tea Party movement (at least before it was co-opted by the neo-conservatives) — is the expression of this feeling.
In music, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to align Woods and a lot of the other bands that specifically choose to create lo-fi music with this cultural spirit. That feeling has been there for a while anyway, starting with New Weird America a decade ago and that kind of bourgeois rejection of postmodernity that the Brattleboro crew affected, and parts of that are definitely within Woods’ music.