Friday, November 23, 2007

Woodbine--Best Before End (2005)

Album-Best Before End
Release Date-Apr 11, 2005
Genre/Style-Indie Rock/Slowcore

Biography-The U.K. indie trio Woodbine came together in 1995 when Rob Healey (guitar/keyboards) left pre-"Brimful of Asha" Cornershop behind for something more personally fulfilling. He hooked up with chanteuse Susan Dillane and guitarist Graeme Swindon to form Woodbine. Domino Records offered them a deal during their first 18 months and Woodbine prepped themselves for a debut album. Then nothing happened. By 1998, they'd saved enough money for studio time. Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema mixed the album and Woodbine's dreamy slowcore sound came together. European tours with Smog, Cat Power, and Broadcast were great experiences, and the single "Tricity Tiara" (2000) did moderately well among the indie charts. In 2002, Woodbine finally released their self-titled debut on Domino.

Review-It's been something like six years since Woodbine's self-titled debut and they seem to have remained on Domino all that time, releasing not much more than a few 7"s. Says something drastically impressive about that label. Anyhoo, second Woodbine album 'Best Before End' now wriggles into the world and begins to enthral from about halfway through, after a nondescript start.

In theory we're deep in melancholy territory. Piano, acoustic picking and ultra-soft drumming (no cymbals) from a hesitant, low key trio. Yet Susan Dillane and Graeme Swindon's male/female vocals are more acerbic than pathos-drenched, which gives the album a slightly cold feeling. Similarly, with the music, everything is dry and intimate to the point of claustrophia, in a Smog or Howe Gelb vein. If there was more echo, this could be a classic Low-esque slowcore beast. But no. It's as if they're conspiring to undermine their chosen genre. Maybe it's producer Mark Coyle's fault, because he's best known for drug-addled rock spasms such as Happy Mondays, Shack and (um) early Oasis. Though 'fault' is too harsh a word: there's a ton of beautiful construction here and some intriguing tunes. But quirksome lyrics (a mean song about biscuits called 'Tea Time Assortment') and the chilly delivery aren't quite hitting the spot.

So, some good bits. 'The Woods' is a great crazy tune, with an odd jerky repeat on the word 'cos' and vast over-repetition of the phrase 'I was so impressed I bought the company'. And from then on, it looks up. 'Monkeys' augments a wooden guitar with a bendy saw noise worthy of Ira Kaplan and then 'Cop On' is Woodbine at their smoggiest, with a taut minimal backbeat and wah'd guitar. Enough. All I needed to say was: they're a bit drier and sillier than they realise and 'Best Before End' is cool from halfway.

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