Keith Wood, along with constant foil Leon Dufficy, is Hush Arbors, and while his self-titled Ecstatic Peace! debut is not his first album by any means - he's been at this almost ten years - it does provide the perfect introductory point to Hush Arbor's lysergic, distinctive take on psych folk. Combining the pensive songwriting of John Phillips circa Wolfking, the plaintive honesty of Neil Young, the fishtank-gazing cacophony of Six Organs of Admittance (Wood is a frequent collaborator), and the restrained whimsy of Bert Jansch, Wood writes classic-sounding songs that sound readymade for the rock canon.
For a songwriter who's name has become synonymous with sonically adventurous bands like Current 93, Six Organs of Admittance and Sunburned Hand of The Man, Wood's music resembles none of these, excepting of course those bands' underlying commitment / reverence to the lineage of rock and roll as we know it so far.
The album is housed in a beautiful cover depicting an oversaturated photo of our bed-headed hero, resembling Terry Gilliam's animated collage work for Monty Python. The cover is rife with codes and clues but I'll leave that to you and your magnifying glass.
"Water" begins the album with a brief instrumental that immediately sidesteps any negative connotations of 'folk rock' tedium. This is followed, appropriately, by "Follow Closely." Equal parts Byrds, Neil, and the ghosts of a hundred private press loners, Keith's lovely overlapping vocals and guest Ben Chasny's lead guitar solo make this an album highlight. And dig these heavy lyrics: "So I go to the mountains & carry with me / The bones & dust that I've found, that exist within / And set a flame to the dead that follow closely / And I look to the light and see it through her eyes." You go, Dungeon Master!
"Rue Hollow," the first of only two tracks not recorded by Keith and Dufficy, is the sound of a restless man touched with the ol' wanderlust despite having been 'round the horn,' as they say. "Gone," the second and final track recorded by, is a charming, deceptively propulsive rock tune that would play as comfortably over a scene from The Wonder Years as it would piping from a noxious chillout tent at Terrastock. And what a guitar solo! "Bless You" is a stoic ode to the Muse, and resonates with the minor key melancholy of Bert Jansch while strongly recalling Furniture Music-era Tower Recordings, with it's 'mixed for hallucinations' quality and junk percussion. "Sand" is where Keith takes us - whether he's aware of it or not - on a tour of those brief and lean "post-metal / pre-collector scum" years, as the song recalls ubiquitous early nineties sad-sacs Mazzy Star with it's cavernous melancholy and unhurried Telecaster chime. "Light"'s gorgeous ramshackle charm is interrupted by a faint, yearning electric guitar. This is the one to get 'lost' in, and one of Keith's most, ahem, accessible numbers.
This will scarcely prepare you for the monolithic, triumphant "Water II," a fuzzed-out, near-raga of a ballad that picks up where the album's intro leaves off. "Water II" is a Wire subscriber's Siamese Dream, Isn't Anything as raised on a diet of wolves and Whitman. It also marks a conclusion, and it is appropriate that an album possessed of such ethereal charm end with what is tantamount to a decisive bang.
Some albums are 'growers' - not this one. While repeated listens reveal more and more details, as good albums should, this is also an album that commands immediate attention. Try to put it on in a crowded room - just try. You'll have a 'High-Fidelity-Beta-Band' scene on your hands within two minutes. But don't burn anyone a copy - let them buy their own. It may very well be one of the last real 'albums' made in this great tradition before we're all buying our music at kiosks in the men's room at Shoney's.
James Jackson Toth