Rumpus Sound Takes: Woods in Amps, Amps in Woods


Amps for Christ / Woods
s/t (Shrimper)

The liner notes for the new split LP by Woods and Amps for Christ suggest that if you listen over and over you’ll detect a “subtle ESP” between the artists, and that’s true, but understated; the two sides cover so much of the same sonic terrain that it’s hard to tell where one artist ends and the other begins. Curlicue melodies plucked from an array of acoustic stringed instruments, layered with vaporous swells of electric noise and a pinch of dark discord, and some sweet, soft singing here and there—they all bleed from side to side.

The project began as a split 7-inch, but expanded as the musicians, working on opposite coasts, dug deeper into their sounds. Side one is the Amps for Christ side. It’s mostly instrumental, beginning with a dreamy tune thrummed on a brightly tuned guitar paired with a fuzzed-out electric guitar that spins a sharp, angular lick in the background. The side ends with something like a raga, all shimmery with sitar. In between is a short track of layered noise and a traditional-style song called “Lord Bateman (Child #53)” that would feel just right on a soundtrack for a film set in the Middle Ages, were it not for the raspy guitar solo running through the length of it.

The Woods side contains the album’s sole collaborative track, the psychedelic “From Oatmeal to Buttermilk,” another electrified raga that’s even more noised-up than the one that ends the first side. There are more song-like songs (and singing) here than on the Amps for Christ side. The vocals are stacked in lush harmonies, the drums and guitar work tightly channeled. Woods’ main men Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere are two of the best songwriters on the indie scene today. Their songs owe a lot to the best late-’60s pop, stuff that’s dreamy and far-out but not so far-out you can’t sing along and tap your toes to it, and not so retro that the songs feel dated or nostalgic. There’s enough post-punk edginess in there to make them feel very much of the moment. The most stunning is the third track, “Wind Was the Wine,” a waltzing number with a euphoric, climactic refrain that calls to mind a Phil Spector classic. Still, ghosts of electric distortion lurk backstage on this track, and everywhere else on the Woods side. These songs form a continuum with the other half of the platter that’s rare for a split LP.

This record is ideal for leaning back in a recliner and spacing out, but it’s also a harbinger of things to come for Woods. I caught up with Earl at a show on their recent tour and he said they’re hard at work on an LP that’ll be out in the fall. If these songs on the split, good as they are, didn’t make the cut for the full-length, the ones on the upcoming release must be very good. When they took the stage, they played a couple new numbers that were more infectious and satisfying than anything I’d ever heard by them. This little band that started out all weird and wobbly in Brooklyn just a few years ago just keeps getting better and better.

Joe Miller is the author of Cross-X, winner of the William Rockhill Nelson Award and the Harry Chapin Media Award in 2007. His essays and short fiction have appeared in Salon, New Letters, Pleiades and Decomp. He's an assistant professor of writing at Columbus State University in Georgia. More from this author →