Sherwood - QU
Record Label: Myspace Records
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2009
Few California bands have been as skilled at recreating the sun-drenched melodies of The Beach Boys better than San Luis Obispo's Sherwood. While their songs take on hints of pop-punk at times, the group's core is the melodic zest of guitarist Dan Koch and the sweetly harmonic vocals of frontman Nate Henry. Though the tandem are not the band's only assets (keys player Mikey Leibovich is a dynamic force, both live and in studio; and drummer Joe Greenetz is a skilled percussionist) their contributions anchor the band, allowing the quintet to craft another dazzling disc, that is most definitely their finest work to date. Whereas on prior efforts the band let Koch tackle all the songwriting, QU features collaborative help from vocalist Henry, keys player Leibovich and a few friends.
Opening with the 40-second acapella treat "Shelter," QU begins with a gentle grace that is both warm and inviting. "Maybe This Time" builds on the cheery vibe of the opener but goes even further. A surefire arena-ready anthem this is a tune with a soaring chorus, driving guitars and snappy percussion. An inspired acoustic guitar begins the unabashed pop-rock smash "Hit the Bottom," which is an undeniable must-listen and another aurally pleasing nugget from a band that may arguably be California's best pop songwriters. The blatant placement of the acoustic guitar is a point worth noting in listening to the rest of the effort. Whereas previous Sherwood discs featured copious amounts of electric guitars, QU features large doses of acoustic guitar, piano and layers of genial percussion.
An autumnal album with somber themes it is the exact record Sherwood needed to make. Four straight albums of saccharine pop goodness is pleasant and infectious, but a shift needed to be made and thankfully Sherwood did so. Though the album represents a sea change of sorts for the quintet, it does not represent a departure from their trademark pop hooks. As evidence of this, fourth track "Make It Through" is the first half's second surefire standout and features a magnetic, midtempo movement that is slightly peppy, sincere and incredibly warmhearted. "You Are" ends what is essentially the disc's first half and it's another inspired and thought-provoking piece. Buoyant and bubbly it is arguably another radio-ready chorus from a band that seems to have the formula for pop simplicity down pat.
"Ground Beneath My Feet" features a set of lines that pretty much sums up the entire album, "'I've got a funny feeling that it's my day to leave, shoulders down, the sweat drips across my cheek, as I turn I can taste the salt in the shallow sea." Though its a rehash, the song is tangible proof that lyricist Dan Koch is a first-rate wordsmith whose simple, unadorned poetry is both understated, underrated and utterly beautiful. "Around You" is another meander through midtempo territory with the guitar and piano providing a calm and cerebral tone to the disc's second half. The band picks up the pace on "What Are You Waiting For?," a cheery pop ditty thats spunky, and vigorous. Ninth track "Not Gonna Love," which appeared on a 2009 EP of the same name is a warm piano-based cut with airy vocals that is captivating and coruscate.
"Worn" is easily Sherwood's most mature recording to date. A simple, acoustic duet between Henry and singer/songwriter Molly Jenson, it's a bittersweet, barroom ballad about the suckerpunches of a failed romance, highlighted by the lines “You always come home to those empty rooms and wonder what’s left to lose, folding sheets ‘cause you can never stop.” Penultimate track "Free" is a is another full-throttle, hip-shaking anthem about clarity and is really the album's only dud. That it comes ten songs in is refreshing and not all that disappointing. Truth be told, for as pedestrian as it might be, it still beats the hell out of a lot of songs passing for pop these days.
And as the album nears finish it is at this point that the crystalline production of Brad Wood is worth applauding. The veteran producer whose had a hand in aiding the careers of Pete Yorn, Liz Phair and Smashing Pumpkins to name a few, has once again inserted his Midas touch on a band that most clearly benefitted from his instruction. Perhaps the best example of this is the stirring album closer "No Better," a sincere and contemplative look at divorce that's as rich and probing as anything released this year. Stark, candid and empathetic, "No Better," cuts to the bone and stirs the soul. Aside from "Lake Tahoe," has Sherwood ever been this poignant?
The album's only error, aside from "Free," is that three of the songs on the disc also appeared on the aforementioned Not Gonna Love EP. Granted those three songs are irresistible, but one can make the argument that the group could have easily penned three more equally irresistible pop charmers. All minor complaints aside, this disc is a dynamo. From start to finish, QU is a surefire winner, backed by sterling arrangements, Henry's finest vocal work to date and easily the most confident and polished work of their career. Equal parts cohesive, stimulating and musically stunning, QU is the sound of a band at their apex and fully realizing their potential. If this doesn't turn some heads, the music industry is truly dead inside.