Review – WOOM – “Muu’s Way”

WOOM

Rating: 70%

Sara Magenheimer and Eben Portnoy holed up in a barn in Massachusetts in the dead of winter for two months, in what ended up being a bit of a musical cleanse. They went into the barn as Fertile Crescent and came out (re/unborn?) as Woom. The album I am reviewing is a product of this retreat. It is called “Muu’s Way.”

How to describe Woom in a way that actually means anything? I’m so (un)happy you asked me that question. It’s scarcely worth doing a comprehensive sounds-like study here (though Deerhoof, The Acorn, and Cocorosie spring to mind), so in the spirit of the band and their style of songwriting, I’ll do it with a bit of poetic hyperbole:

Imagine, if you will, a beautiful girl beckoning you to come closer. She has a secret, and she is so sweet looking you want to squeeze her. Your ear is close to her lips, you can feel her breath (it smells like mint leaves and sea breeze) and just as she’s about to coo something meaningful into your ear, a car horn blares, and the girl is gone.

Okay here’s a simpler one: “Someone spiked my Shirley Temple,” I cried, “but I can’t stop drinking it. I don’t even drink!”

WOOM

Woom is a band who does a lot with negative space. So much so that I was surprised to discover the ten track album barely crossing the thirty minute mark. They have the clickety-clack thing down pat. They’ll tap a pencil on a plastic cup to create a percussion bed, no problemo. Sara and Eben run this show with their voices more often than not, after all. Leads and harmonies linger longer than the bleeps.

The staccato nature of the songs also linger, for better or for worse. It is a bit of an anti-momentum LP which doesn’t allow you to let it fade into the background. Which is great if you don’t aren’t seeking full contentment. I personally like holistic experiences, however, and Woom certainly show their under-feathers more than once, giving me hope that this album is the beginning of a continued refinement.

That’s not to say this is a train wreck by any means. But it’s a slippery slope. Cocorosie, for example, haven’t repeated their debut success to date. But with Woom, whenever the train is about to derail into an art college dorm room jam session, they bring us back. “OK… OK… OK…” we hear at one point, as if they knew they were misbehaving.

As we meander through the album (and meander is the best word for it), we hear stories both poetic (“Circle on the surface, black blood on the white snow. It’s coming and coming and coming down, a strange style of voices.”) and literate (“Rafael, pull off the black balaclava. Put your ass down on the sofa. We’ll have some coffee and talk.”). It’s a mix I like, and this from a guy who doesn’t like mixed drinks (see above).

WOOM

Standout tracks include “Quetzalcoatl’s Hip,” a quirky, seaside hymn about bottled ships and burials including a steel cameo near the end. I can’t help but think the title has a bit of wordplay in and of itself.

“Back In,” plays like an unplugged song The XX might have written if they stopped flirting with one another for more than two seconds.

Lead track “Backwards Beach,” beaches us onto the sandy shore of Woom Island in a wash of electro-sea swells, only to land on a beach haunted by sunny, strummy jangles and palm trees swaying to a sing-song breeze.

“Under Muu,” is a wonderful instrumental worth noting. It really reminded me of something The Acorn might have written and played, and I wouldn’t complain about an all-instrumental album from WOOM in this very tone; it’s excellence incarnate.

“Judith,” ends the album on an experimental note, with bleeps and glass breaks held together by the vocals like a piece of perfume-scented scotch tape. With this closing track, Woom appropriately remind us (and themselves?) who they are, and most importantly who they are not.

Personally, I do like them for who they are. But I want to love them for who they might become. We’ve reached a cruising altitude together, but are you equipped to take us out into space on our next expedition? Until then, I’ll sway and twitch to Woom’s sweet, strange take on music-making, and wander their melodic madness, one clickety-clack at a time.

Mp3. “Back In”
Mp3. “Quetzalcoatl’s Hip”

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