Review Summary: Highly Refined Madness
You could be forgiven for not expecting the music contained on Wood Spider’s sixteen minute EP “In The Thick Of It.” The album art certainly appears fairly innocuous. A small, barren island of indistinct proportions in the middle of an expanse of water, as the rain pours down. It is certainly a striking image, and seems to hint at something downbeat, melancholy.
So the hoarse shouts that kick off opening cut Adverse Effects come as a jolting surprise. There is no gentle fade-in, no build-up to the abrasiveness of the calls, accompanied by only a low rumbling drone and the quick strums of a banjo. But then something odd happens – without altering the gruff shouts in the slightest, other instruments are brought into the mix: accordion, cello, washboard percussion, and the proceedings are given a bouncy melody that flies in the face of the earlier established rough and tumble aesthetic.
So it goes on "In The Thick Of It." There is a fine balancing act between the harsh and raw and more stereotypical twee indie stylings. It all makes for a fascinating combination. Call it punk influenced sea shanties. Wood Spider is a far cry from the precious indie bands that would seem un-ironically at home on Portlandia. The New York sextet seems to share more with Tom Waits than Belle and Sebastian.
There is a finesse and maturity to the songwriting that seems to far outreach what a normal band would achieve in its relative infancy, prior to any full length release. Swimming Holes opens with the soft plucks of strings dancing serenely about with a sense of restraint not present on the preceding tracks. In fact, it seems to almost capture that album cover. That is, until the vocals shuffle in, now seeming to channel a stumbling drunk Isaac Brock, with the vocals slowly pouring over each other in an ever increasing rush. It all culminates in some mono-syllabic chants perfect for holding a pint of beer aloft and swinging it to and fro as the froth spills over the sides.
But the highlight comes with Shifting Gears. Opening with an atonal pirate choir and accordion, the music is quickly replaced with a lone hoarse shout, before all manner of instruments come sliding back in on top. The track perfectly exemplifies the contradictions Wood Spider make the basis of their sound. The arrangements wouldn’t sound out of place in a choir hall. But there is an aggression, a flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants sense of madness about to spring forth at all times. Even when the music pulls back to pull forward the gentle chime of a bell, it sounds ready to fall once more into cacophony at each second. But that’s “In The Thick Of It” for you – carefully composed, but with a fine attention to orchestrated sloppiness that recalls the most intoxicated live band dive bar shows imaginable. Pulling off brawler songs with accordion, banjo, ukulele, cello, and glockenspiel wouldn’t immediately sound feasible, but that’s exactly what Wood Spider have done.