Wooden Hez – Spew
Philadelphia’s Wooden Hez are reaching higher than ever before with their third release, Spew. The ten-song set is based around a commanding two-guitar attack accompanied by two percussionists and a bass player. The songwriting, however, plays an important role. Wooden Hez aspire, lyrically, to a degree of sophistication that many bands of their stripe unfortunately aspire to as well. This band flashes many moments of songwriting ingenuity on these songs that often redeems otherwise problematic bits of song craft. The album’s success rests on the balance between its weaknesses and strong suits. Fortunately, for the band, the final tally finds favor with the idea that Spew is a success.
Songs like “Old Skin” and “Punk Rock Jack” establish that early. The first is a dark, slash and burn cut with thick guitars and anguished vocals. Despite sleepy tempos and heavy production, an unmistakable urgency in the vocals carries over from song to song. The second song, fourth in the running order, is a surprisingly direct ballad looking back on a slightly mad character. Lyrics are a strong suit throughout the album and this is the finest bit of writing, clear and cohesive in a way other songs aren’t. “Old Same Old” has strong lyrics working for it as well, but the band opts to cloud Dave Pitone’s vocals rather than giving them an equal share of the sonic space. When he does let it rip and his voice pushes through the murk, it’s reminiscent of Nick Cave at his impassioned finest.
Wooden Hez start many songs off in unusual ways and “Sundown” is no exception. Scattered bass playing underpins the minimal guitar and drum duet for an extended intro that will overstay its welcome for some. An understated drum fill rolls us into a relaxed, confident groove, but the opportunity for something special disappears when the band plays the song out without much drama. “Killing Street” has a cinematic sweep to it and storytelling aspects that few of the earlier tracks sport. Unusual ballads like this demonstrate different musical sides to the band than those on the album’s first half – a clearer interest in harmony and a continued willingness to push Pitone’s vocals further up in the mix.
Spew’s final track, “Hare Krishna”, is self-indulgent folly that tests the band’s skills without question, but lacks much substance as either a lyrical or a musical statement. What initially begins as a moody acoustic driven piece replete with woodwind instruments soon tumbles into insertions of pre-launch radio communications from NASA to astronauts aboard an Apollo flight.
Wooden Hez can ill afford that sort of self-indulgence either in novelty numbers or inattentiveness to their art. This is a monochromatic album in some ways and its lack of variation is ultimately dull. The talent here is enormous and, good for Wooden Hez, time is on their side to see that talent bloom in full.
– Bradley Johnson