Review: The Woodlands – The Woodlands (2010)

It’s a lovely thing when a band enters your life with little to no buzz behind them, barely any word of mouth, and they sweep you off your feet, going so far as to integrate themselves seamlessly into not only your listening patterns, but also your very existence, making their music a perfect orchestration of your life. And that’s exactly how I fell in love with The Woodlands.

With how often I listen to the Woodlands or how fervently I speak of them, you’d think there was some grand love story here. That perhaps I met a boy and fell in love and he was driving me back to his place for what would doubtlessly be a memorable night and we were listening to The Woodlands. Or maybe one of their songs was sent to me on a mix CD from a secret admirer, whom I fell in love with despite anonymity. Both of those stories are worthy of the The Woodlands. Unfortunately, neither is true. Instead, Radio Free Chicago contributor (and all-around babe) Abby Holmes told me, via twitter, to check them out and I did. And that was that.

The Woodlands, however, are worth a tale more beautiful because they’re the type of band that can melt the most jaded of hearts. If there was an audible equivalent to the Hollywood version of a “first kiss”,  it would be The Woodlands. You see, there’s something eerily familiar about the duo from Portland, Oregon, and that something makes them the very definition of charming. At first, I thought the band’s familiarity had something to do with the fact that lead singer Hannah Robertson had an Au Revoir Simone-esque quality about her, that some of the songs sounded like a more accessible Azure Ray but before long, I realized that neither of these elements were what made The Woodlands self titled debut so immediately endearing to me.  What struck me, rather, about The Woodlands is the fact that had I dreamt up the perfect band, The Woodlands might be it. In fact, I think The Woodlands were weaving their web of music box indie pop in my dreams long before I had ever heard the band play a single note.

With talk like that, one might assume, knowing my listening patterns, that The Woodlands is a band of sad-sack white dudes with beards, singing songs of love gone by the wayside and that The Woodlands is packed with murder ballads galore. The Woodlands, however, are not what you’d call “Standard Amber-fare”. The Woodlands, legend has it, are a husband and wife duo – If that in itself doesn’t sell the “adorable” factor, I don’t know what does – that are lead by Hannah Robertson’s hushed vocalizations, which sing lyrics of longing like “Can we stay here longer? Can we stay here forever?” with desire that showcases all the want of a teenage girl’s wish to lay in the arms of her boyfriend all night, even though curfew is fast approaching. It’s interesting, as well, that Robertson’s voice also is rapt with the innocence of a child that’s begging to stay at the pet store just a while to play with the puppies.

And suddenly, I think I understand why men have a Lolita fetish.

Something about The Woodlands has a cinematic feel about it, although the music is never overreaching or grandiose. In fact, most all the songs featured on the twosome’s debut are a simple “guitar and voice” combo with only slight production values applied with a deft hand to enhance, never overpower, the band’s natural charms.  The songs on The Woodlands are ripe for backing an M and M’s commercial of swirling chocolates a la Iron & Wine’s cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” and they are ready to orchestrate a tender moment in an indie film in which the protagonist and her love interest finally get together. One of the greatest things about The Woodlands, however, is that while their music would make a lovely soundtrack to disrobe to, it would be just as (if not more) poignant whilst played during the scene of “morning after” regret.

“Until The Day Dims” opens with a haunting vocal hook that seems incredibly familiar and revelatory and new, all at once. “King And Queen” (Sadly, not a cover of the similarly named Okkervil River tune) recalls the noir-tinged debut from Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan and “Summerland” almost has a Charlotte Gainsbourg-in-the-hands-of-Beck air about it. Where all of these artists have failed me in the past however, with Campbell & Lanegan occasionally getting boring and Gainsbourg falling short of expectations, The Woodlands simply charm more and more as the album progresses, unearthing lovely surprise after lovely surprise.  By the time The Woodlands raps up it’s ten track tenure, with “Through The Winter”, you find yourself eager for the days of CD’s with hidden tracks, just so you can get a little bit more of the Robertsons in your life before the album comes to an end.

Everything about female fronted indie, The Woodlands take and turn into their own, putting their more known counterparts to shame and stealing the hearts of everyone that turns an attentive ear to the Oregon natives.  Were The Woodlands a food, they’d be fresh fruit – Sugary and sweet but not so sugary and sweet that you get sick of the taste. The Woodlands are a band you can live with, that can turn your proverbial frown upside down but offer a shoulder to lean on when you just need a friend to bum out with.

One of the most charming things about The Woodlands is that they make me want to do things I don’t normally do. They make me want to hold hands and send cute text messages and kiss boys on the cheek. The Woodlands make me want to be nice to small children and braid my hair and champion all the cute feelings in life that I normally scoff at in favor of jaded pessimism. The Woodlands make me want to lay on a blanket in my backyard in the sun in summer. They’re so evocative of this feeling, in fact, that listening to The Woodlands makes me forget that it’s winter. And that is why I’ll be trading out my Azure Ray and Au Revoir Simone for The Woodlands from here on out.

The Woodlands
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Rating: 7.8/10

My name's Amber and I'm a girl who writes about music. What do you do?

1 Comment

  • Reply November 26, 2012

    John

    This is a great album which I recently bought a copy of – great to hear the artists talking about the creative process in writing and producing the album

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