WOODROW – Jose
WOODROW – Buds & Thorns
You can buy these EPs here.
Woodrow performs on the High Noon patio on August 30th.
Woodrow is planning a full-length release for 2018.
A pair of EPs from Woodrow, a band that has its genesis in late 2016 and is fronted by Connor Brennan. Brennan, who wrote these songs, sings, and plays guitar and keys, came to the UW and earned a PhD in medical physics when he paused to take on the much more complicated world of music. Connor recruited Rhode Islander Marc Brousseau to play guitar. That duo was joined by bassist and Mt. Horeb native Nate Klopotic and UW Band drummer Connor Peterson. This lineup released the Jose EP in June of 2017. Kevin Gale joined the group on piano for the making of the Buds & Thorns EP, released in September 2017. Since then Georgia native Claire Kannapell has taken over bass duties and another UW Band member, Andrew Klunick has assumed the drum throne. WI native and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Jensen joined on a variety of instruments including piano, guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, and drums.
Woodrow is solidly indie-pop but like a lot of music these days, there is a mash-up of styles going on. Most noticeable is the use of auto-tune on the vocals. Love it or hate it, the effect seems entirely unnecessary as Brennan is a more-than-capable singer with a strong delivery and a hefty range. The music is squarely aimed at the mainstream but Buds & Thorns in particular tosses in a few s-words; for example “Toss and Turn” where “Don’t shit where you eat” is actually used as a refrain. Additionally, some distorted guitars are employed to throw the listener off the scent, but the songs remain superficial. Not that that’s an entirely bad thing; it’s what pop music is. It’s not supposed to enlighten you but you might be able to relate.
Both of these EPs were recorded with Mark Whitcomb at DNA and the production value is very high. There are several impressive keyboard moments and “Emme” is an instrumental that brings out the synths. The aforementioned “Toss and Turn” features guest vocalist Ashley Foreman and the harmonies are a highlight. The drumming is the secret ingredient here. Even though they are a bit low in the mix – at the expense of the vocal riding well over the top – the drums are sharp and snappy and the bass is right in the pocket. This propels the music forward despite some rather uninventive progressions and rather pedestrian, relationship-driven lyrics.
“Fantasm” opens Jose, a bubbly synth-pop instrumental that bleeds into “Burn,” one of the most cleverly-arranged songs on either of the releases. Brennan delivers a fine vocal line although the auto-tune is distracting. The middle section’s piano motif would not sound out of place on a Rick Wakeman record and, with a meaty guitar solo, is as hard as Woodrow rocks. Lyrically the song’s message seems to be, “Hurry up and pick out that sweater so we can go home early.” “lol” talks about buying a tie and texting. Her “Nose Ring” is juxtaposed with his stupid grin in a metaphor for trying to make a relationship work from opposite corners.
“Headlights” opens Buds & Thorns and picks up where Jose left off but this is one where the auto-tune is dialed down. A real Beatle-esque bridge makes this one of Brennan’s better compositions. The guitars get dialed up on “Jumpin’ Bail” in a meager attempt to earn indie cred but lyrically could be a top 40 country song. A delicate piano opens “Hard Line” and again, the lack of auto-tune gives the track added authenticity. Here, Brennan stretches a bit; there is development in the arrangement and the use of different instrumental textures makes this the best song of the bunch. This is a direction that could serve Woodrow well as by the time “Hard Line” rolls around it feels a bit like Brennan has exorcised whatever relationship demons pushed him toward music in the first place. Woodrow’s music sounds a bit tricky to reproduce live but that may be their ace-in-the-hole and prove if the band is serious about carrying on or whether this is a sideline adventure in a mid-career crisis.