Brooklyn’s Great Woods released Strange Lives on June 23rd, offering listeners a large dose of nostalgia for 90s alternative rock, subdued behind more airy indie-folk composition.
The album starts off strong with the whining guitar of “Strange Times in the City,” creating a heady atmosphere. Ryrie’s vocal delivery harkens back to 90s grunge and is on point throughout the song, and the slow, driving bass gives the song a full sound, but with a much more country vibe. Honestly, this sounds like a song you’d see a crowd swaying to at summer music festivals while smoke clouds float through the air.
Hippies turn back to headbangers with the more urgent “Poison the Well.” This song is the perfect encapsulation of modern indie punk, sounds from 80s new wave, a classic rock feel with the guitar solos. The punk rock guitar mixed with Ryrie’s lulling vocals of 80s new wave, makes this sound (at least musically) like it could have been written by 2000s AFI, and vaguely like it could be off Balance and Composure’s latest release. The guitar is really showcased in this song, both with the picking and the lead parts. I particularly look forward to seeing this song played live.
“Atom Bomb,” which shifts to a straight alternative country sound, might just be my favorite track on the album, though it doesn’t move much outside of other rock ballads. It was on this song that I finally realized why Ryrie’s voice sounded so familiar. The similarities to Andy Jackson makes me feel like this song could be from a more lethargic Hot Rod Circuit. It’s a slow-burner with a country guitar part and a catchy chorus and great instrumentation overall. The use of strings, interwoven with the guitar parts, gives a specific beauty to the song. Once again, Ryrie shows a great control of song dynamics.
Ryrie stays with the alt-country vibe on “Can’t Unlearn” though it starts off lightly with accordion and bells. Though not necessarily the most powerful song ever recorded, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest skipping over it too often. Despite it’s rather prototypical sound, it knows how to toe the line between emulating a specific style, and merely becoming another cliche. Plus, it has a sweet Beatles-style guitar solo. Lyrically, the song starts with:
“It’s not hard to say how I feel, It’s just hard to feel how I do.”
These are a perfect example of simple lyrics that actually have profound and striking meaning. Simple lyrics that aren’t just a cliche. Though the rest are of the typical “let me tell you how much I miss you” variety, they never get too cheesy.
“Over the Moon” starts of with a pop punk guitar riff and stays intriguing with its quicker pacing. The song stays pretty upbeat, at least compared to the slower songs featured on the album. The background vocals are all executed perfectly, and Ryrie maybe best shows off his ability to emphatically use dynamics. However, while each section of the song is crafted to perfection, it still falls flat, setting off the unfortunate truth of this album: it ends on the two weakest offerings.
Or should I say, less enjoyable?
“Over the Moon” seems like the pieces are crafted separately, and then stuck together in hopes they work together. And the same can be said for “Married to the Wind.” While its syncopated vocals and driving bass line keep the song upbeat, each piece of the song seems to be out of place, making the final song a bit underwhelming. I love the chorus, and it is obviously paying homage to Elliott Smith, but I think I’d love it more in another song. The bridge falls short, and the multiple vocal layers of the bridge and chorus take any intensity out of the song necessary for a feeling of finality. I’d have rather heard Eric belt the lyrics out himself.
Speaking of lyrics, they also come up short of the final track.
“I wanna run to the eye of the storm, pray the lightning keeps me warm.”
This lyrical style doesn’t quite work as well when the song is about something more obscure, not a generic love song. But of course, classic rock songs weren’t always noted for their strong lyrical prowess…
It’s unfortunate the ordering of songs on this album is a bit off. The three songs that I felt were most complete are placed at the beginning of the album, leaving the end of the album feeling a little less finished. Still, Strange Lives is a very well-crafted EP. It pulls in the right amount of obvious odes to Ryrie’s influences, balancing the old classic rock feel with the more modern indie sounds. It’s the obvious goal of this project, and is executed perfectly.