Woody Whatever – The Great Pop

Woody Whatever
The Great Pop

Like Jewel and Paul McCartney before him, Jeremy Schmall — one-half of the brotherly duo that makes up the core of Woody Whatever — likes to write himself some poetry. (You can find samples on the band’s website.) Yet whereas Jewel and Macca’s forays into the poetic arena were more a result of ego-tripping than any real skill, Schmall is actually kinda good. Maybe not DC Berman good, but he’s entertaining nonetheless. Anyway, one of Schmall’s more dour pieces caught my eye, as it contains the following passage: “Sitting on the front stoop / with friends drunk wasted lives / at three in the morning … but what can you do?”

The answer, I think, is to listen to Woody Whatever’s new album, The Great Pop, and to drown your post-modern sorrows in the array of pop nuggets that it has to offer. The record itself is very lo-fi — imagine “Into My Arms”-era Lemonheads with scratchier production and shakier voices, or perhaps the Shins when they were still called Flake Music — but its melodic hooks are well thought-out. The opening track, “Drive an Uncle Through Mountains,” is single-worthy not only for its insanely catchy chorus, but for the jangly, REM-style guitars and Ric Ocasek handclaps that help it create a laid-back, we’re-on-a-road-trip vibe (hence the title). It’s probably the strongest cut on the album, but The Great Pop is also interesting for its flirtations with electronica. When Woody’s folky guitar-pop starts to get old, its sound is inevitably revived by the addition of synths (“When You Get Home”), a winding keyboard effect (“Careers [Just Choose Anyone]”), or flow-y, digital collages borrowed right outta the Flaming Lips’ musical workshop (“I’ve Been Afraid”). Nice.

Things head southward, however, when the Schmall brothers recede from the proverbial spotlight and drench their harmonized vocals in so much echo that songs become distant and aimless. “Nevermind Nevermind” hinges on the lyric, “I’m not goin’ in circles,” but after a few reverb-laden passes, it feels like the opposite is true! In a similar way, studio effects force the sunny chorus of “I Booked a Flight” to the back of the mix when it really deserves to have a spot in the forefront. Frustrating indeed, but these moments are the exception, not the rule, and thanks to Jeremy Schmall, the lyrics are always solid. In fact, I’d like to leave you with another excerpt from his poetry, one more indicative of The Great Pop’s shimmery goodness: “When I pat his leg to wake him … he raises his arm and says / ‘Rock ‘n roll!’” Now, that’s the spirit.