Woodsman are obscurantists, and doubtlessly proud of the fact. I had to look up the filmmaker Stan Brakhage, whom Woodsman cite as a significant influence on their work, and I mean I’d never even suspected the existence of Stan Brakhage, let alone that a quartet of electro percussive improvisers and experimentalists from Denver would consider knowledge of his work a prerequisite for the appreciation of their own. So, while listening to Rare Forms I looked up his films on assorted download sites and as it turned out, this is actually recommended practise as one thing filmmaker Stan Brakhage has never done, in his over 4 decades of filmmaking, is provide soundtracks to his own work. Woodsman are then one of a small but perhaps growing number of Brakhage acolytes, dedicated to ending the silence that characterises the work of one of America’s lesser known but widely influential experimetal film makers.
And Woodsman’s music goes very well alongside the imagist jump cutting and 16mm grain of Brakhage’s pictures. Their music can vary from frenzied percussive jamming to conventional three verse and chorus pop songs, all of their work built around disrupted drum patterns and effect-heavy guitars. So if opening track “Insects” is Woodsman portraying themselves as country influenced songwriters, albeit songwriters whose work has been twisted nearly beyond recognition through an amalgam of reverb and chorus pedals, although the drumming retains a standard 4/4 timing. Not so with next track “Dead Awake” which is a sound collage whose structure is best described as minimal. If the first track was a song titled “Insects”, it is followed by what sounds a lot like an entire studio full of buzzing winged creatures, dizzying themselves around an improvised sax break and some determinedly monotonous drum sounds. As the album develops, it appears that Woodsman are past masters of improv. “Spectral Creatures” is about as chaotically atonal as the quartet are able to record, and the electronic structures of ‘I Can’t Move’ take on a fractalised existence of their own as the band move away from improv and back to more conventional areas.
“Future Pulls” sees the band turning down the chorus and turning up the strings, the unalloyed sound of their guitars carries the song rather than the mixing board wizardry that has featured so noticeably up to this point. The song ends a little too quickly and the next, untitled track is a sonorous two or so minutes of chanted vocal and indisciplined drumming. “Beat The Heat” is, on the surface, a more focused track, with Woodsman playing to each other, as opposed to at themselves. It’s a pointer to how their music is evolving, and part of the strength of Rare Forms is that is very much a work in progress.
Final track “All The Cards Fell Into Place” is a rush of feedback and sudden twists of acoustic guitars, shakers, vibes and vocalising. It’s at something of a distance from first song “Insects” and beginning as a structured song, the track spirals into an amalgamation of entirely different sounds to those it began with. Woodsman are at the very least an inventive group of musicians, but the balance between their songwriting abilities and their wilder excursions into improvised sound isn’t quite equal, although this creates its own dynamic throughout the album. I won’t suggest they drop the noise quotient and just make an acoustic album, although they in all probability could do this with some success, and the most inspired moments of their improvisations are possessed of colourful velocities that would more than complement Stan Brakhage’s films, if they were ever shown in tandem.