As muted laughter segues to infectiously bright instrumentation on the opening track of Woodrow’s debut EP, José, the band give two distinct first impressions: the first is a palpable creative energy, and the second is a total disregard for convention.
Connor Brennan (vocals/keys/guitar), Marc Brousseau (guitar), Connor Peterson (drums) and Nate Klopotic (bass) come together like colorful patchwork on José. Their tastefully eclectic sound is the result of an unlikely alliance between the quartet’s dueling musical palates, the likes of which range from country to hip-hop, and from math rock to folktronica. The group is truly genre-enigmatic, though they describe their music as quirky, piano-driven indie pop. “I’ve been telling people [we’re like the band] Fun. meets Billy Joel, at the risk of overselling,” Brousseau says with a smile. That Woodrow are able to reconcile these varying influences on José and still sound purposeful is a testament to their vision. José is bold, playful and unabashedly different. (We’re premiering a stream below.)
José speaks more to the heart than to intellect; the band’s stylistic choices won’t make sense to everyone. While fans of Nate Ruess (Fun., The Format) will find some familiarity in Woodrow’s whimsical vocals, melodies and tempo/key changes, their indiscreet use of auto-tuning might take a few listens to warm up to. Brennan’s decision to saturate José with vocal processing came after listening to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. “I heard it and thought, the things [Justin Vernon’s] doing on this album with vocals are incredible,” Brennan explains. “I kind of wanted to piece into that a little bit and not be afraid to put auto-tune on a normal rock ballad. Why not?” Altering Brennan’s already affecting voice was a bold move, but it works. The vocal processing on album highlight “Burn” licks hypnotically at the senses, lingering when the track is over like sticky-sweet jam on your fingertips.
As stimulating as José‘s sound effects are, though, they don’t overshadow the subtle awareness in Brennan’s lyricism. Untinged by overthinking, his words hold a vital simplicity that cuts straight through life’s emotional tensions and puts them into perspective. On “Another State,” Brennan reflects on his partner’s habit of picking fights with him. “You say we could break up in the blink of an eye/ You were all I wanted,” he sings seriously, then adds “All I wanted was you to help me pick out a tie, cause God knows where we’ll end up tonight.” And on “Lol,” where Brennan pokes fun at himself over a lunch date rejection, his silly lyrics are as cathartic as they are self-deprecating.
Through genre diversity, style experimentation and smart songwriting, Woodrow consistently find clarity in ambiguity. José embodies the spaciousness of a band unconcerned with expectations, and this might be their biggest asset. It’s as if everyone in Woodrow unscrewed their preconceived notions of what good music should sound like and smashed them on the ground — now they get to play with the pieces.