Woven Bones - "If It Feels Alright" (In and Out and Back Again)
Why do we demand song structure out of certain kinds of music and not of others? Why is it just fine, beautiful even, for a drone experimental outfit to meander on over a quarter of an hour of tonal experiment without ever approaching a melody? Why is it not OK for a band in the garage rock idiom to riff and quake and moan, even for less than three minutes, without some sort of recognizable tune?
The question comes up because Woven Bones, a three-piece, Ramones-influenced, VU-droning garage band out of Austin, is all atmosphere and no song, or at least no songs that you can tell apart readily. The atmosphere, in the band’s defense, is rather fine, an ominous, echoing, fuzz-altered cave-sound. Here pedal-morphed guitar notes careen wildly though primitive, paranoiac drumming. Here, singer Andrew Burr pursues his monotone chants over churning, roiling, manically repetitive riffs of guitar and bass. It’s a super-charged, super-exciting aesthetic, triangulating the space between the Ramones, the Fall and the Jesus & Mary Chain, and it sounds terrific the first time you play In and Out and Back Again.
The problem is that the sound never ripens, never takes hold, never really goes beyond the “this is cool” production. Even a dozen times through, it’s hard to pick a favorite song, not because they’re all great (though my guess is that any one of them would sound pretty good on a mix CD), but because they’re all the same. Maybe it’s the jump from being a singles band — where you only have to make one kind of impact but you have to make it fast — to making a whole album. But in any event, there’s just not enough variation to make a case for even this very short full-length. Once you’ve blasted “I’ll Be Running” and “7 Year Mirror,” you’ve pretty much got the gist.
Other bands — Apache, the Impediments, Box Elders to name three — are working this same dark, manic punk-into-glam territory, but with notably better, more varied songs. Maybe it’s a developmental stage, as Woven Bones progresses from a “this is what we sound like” stage to something more along the lines of “this is what we have to say.” But for now, it’s the Ramones’ energy without the hooks, Jesus & Mary Chain fuzz without the bruised melody underneath. Not bad, but not exactly groundbreaking.