Friday, January 29, 2010

Shout out / Review: Woodhands' Remorsecapade.

I've said it a few times already on this blog: Woodhands is my favourite live band. They are intense, unpretentious, in-your-face, and impossible not to dance to. And they've got a new record out.

To celebrate the release and help get the word out, the band hosted a secret, invite-only show Thursday night at the not-spacious Smiling Buddha bar. Slightly north and west of the usual hotspots, and often playing host to bands even I've never heard of, I admit to not having ventured there before. I got there early, and spent a quick hour and a quarter talking with an assortment of local press-types and friends of the band. At around 10:30pm, a smoke machine and two green lasers having created somewhat of a proper vibe, and with photographers assembled at the front, the band started to play. And then quickly stopped. Aw, Woodhands. The technical issues were almost instantly sorted out, and the show really got started. The band performed a few of the songs off Remorsecapade, brought Maylee Todd on to contribute her part to "Dissembler" and "Dancer" from 2008's Heart Attack, then seamlessly transitioned into "Coolchanize," the standout track from the new album. The performance wasn't quite the display of musical wizardry I've seen from this band, but that's hardly the point. Experiencing these songs---also "CP24," "Talk," and "I Should Have Gone With My Friends"---performed live makes me excited for everyone who'll get a chance to see this band on their upcoming tour. And, as a friend of mine told drummer Paul Banwatt after the set, it was just fun to see them play in a small venue just like the old days.

Back in late 2007 and into 2008, that same friend and I went to see Woodhands every time they played. We were both going through stuff---I was in search of a new social life, and he was trying to rescue a failing relationship. I eventually found my weekend salvation in the indie scene; him, in the electro-dance world. But as we drifted apart socially, we always met at Woodhands shows. The music was loud, fast, hard-hitting, with a clear beat and unstoppable energy. And still interesting. Dan Werb's pained screams and emotional turmoil, Paul's firy, surprising drumming, their choice to risk technical failure by putting all their synth lines together live . . . it all made Woodhands' music compellingly immediate. Here was something I'd rarely heard: intense electro-pop with brains and emotional baggage. When the band went on their first US tour in April 2008, my friend and I drove to his hometown of Pittsburgh to see them play. Woodhands was on first, unbilled on a four-band night, opening for Ra Ra Riot, who were still driving to the venue when our band went on. In front of a handful of local kids, my friend and I danced fearlessly, with abandon and conviction. It felt like the culmination of our respective transformations, establishing the success and rightness of the paths we'd taken over the past few months. Woodhands is an important part of my history and continues to have a place in my present.

Remorsecapade, out this past week, is the band's second full-length album. Like the first, it offers up eminently danceable tracks and much artistic interest. Electro isn't usually this smart and fully danceable. The best track, "Coolchazine," grabbed my attention right away. Some of the others took a few listens, but by now I'm quite taken with the record. (I'm listening to it on repeat as I write this, and keep find myself grooving in my chair. And I don't care if anyone's watching.)

The first track, "Pockets," sets the tone, and assures the listener that all the ingredients that made Heart Attack great are still present. Slow builds and quiet moments compete with pounding beats and aborted symbol crashes. The song's both groovy and meaningful. It's a love song, after all. "Talk," next up, is about a girl, too. It has dance hit written all over it, but the angst-ridden, yearning kind, not the bubble-gum version. "CP24" you've all heard (and seen). Here the angst gets aggressive and embittered. "Sluts"---which I just noticed begins with a technical glitch and Dan swearing "fuck this machine"---has a more dance club vibe. The girl problems continue, but there's a resolution. What begins aggressively ends with a much more healthy attitude. Awesome. And then comes "Coolchanize." As Dan himself might say, "Oh shit!" Screams! Grunts! This song takes me through the ringer. Dan---or the man he's singing about---has been done wrong. "Why are you fucking with my focus? Why do you have to be the closest thing to me?" and etc. The man can't get a break, though, deciding next that "I Should Have Gone With My Friends" instead of following his date around. This is another great dance track. After all this "Dissembler" comes as a welcome reprieve. Maylee Todd, whose smooth vocal performance on "Dancer" added so much to the first record, is back, performing a duet on this one with Dan. Much airier, this pop love song is really lovely. Everyone now feeling better about things, it's time to dance (and scream) again. "When the Party is Over," featuring fat synth beats, under-emphasized drumming, and great singing, is another solid Woodhands song. The final track ("I Want To Be Together," followed by the outro "How To Survive A Remorsecapade"), is radically different in sound. It's slower, contemplative, sad---"I want to be together" is the repeated refrain---but also a smart way to end a record that's full of anger and heartbreak and other emotional struggles. A "remorsecapade" indeed.

Woodhands are still at their best when Paul's beating the life out of his drum kit, and Dan's screaming his mind out. The heart-wrenching ups and downs make Remorsecapade an impressive contribution to the art of the album. Excellently crafted---with that touch of humour at the start of "Sluts"---the songs will certainly go over well with on the DJ circuit, get lots of play at home parties, but also have an intellectual appeal. But forget about all that. I'm still dancing in my chair.

Download: "Pockets" (Remorsecapade, 2010).
Download: "I Kissed A Girl (Katy Perry cover)" (unreleased, 2009).
Download: "Dancer" (Heart Attack, 2008).
Download: "I Wasn't Made For Fighting" (Heart Attack, 2008).

Remorsecapade is out now. Pick up a copy at your local record store, or order it through Paper Bag Records (or whatever other online retailer you like). The band is playing shows through Canada this winter. Their MySpace has all the details.

Frank has his review up, and so does Ricky.


Anonymous said...

What a great review! You did a great job of breaking the entire album down, layer by layer, as well as adding a personal touch. Woodhands are most definitely one of the greats of the Canadian music scene.

suckingalemon said...

the old days! more of that. serious great review, i hope this post was the 5 AM version.

dan did some live stuff with gent reg at owen's band marathon birthday party, it was really great. i wish they would perform together again or release it or maybe it exists and i don't know it.

Anonymous said...

Wow great review!
I wish I lived in TO and experience Woodhands big time.
Oh wait! I did at NXNE in 2009 :P

Love the new album.
I really love Dissemble!

historyjen said...

Thanks guys! Aviva, send me your email and I'll send you a present. And, yes, it is the 5am version :-)
<3 Woodhands.