#13 on the 2011 Musical Bacon Calendar
Valley of the Headless Men by Ravenna Woods
Before Labor Day 2011, I had heard good things about Ravenna Woods but had not been able to give them a listen or see them live. Then I was coaxed along to see them by a friend at Bumbershoot, about which I wrote:
This was my first time to experience the music of this trio, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I was absolutely floored. These guys were the most original act I’d seen all weekend, and maybe even all year. With a very sparse set up of guitar, keyboard/xylophone and percussion, the band was able to create a totally unique sound, using the sparseness of their music and the accoustics of the room to their advantage.
Lead singer Chris Cunningham (not the famous music video director) has a finger picking style of guitar playing that is extremely intricate, and somewhat unbelievable to watch live. Hearing it on their albums, I thought to myself “that’s got to be digitally created.” But seeing Cunningham’s flying fingers ride up and down the neck of his guitar, he’s proven to me he’s one of the most underrated talents performing today. Watching him play these complicated melodies on his guitar while singing on top of it is simply jaw dropping.
You’d think there’s only one way to play drums for an indie-rock back, but drummer Matt Badger is here to prove you wrong. Armed with only two floor toms, a ride cymbal and a tambourine, Badger coaxed more unique sounds out of his kit than those with twice as many pieces might. And for most of the show he played standing up, painfully bent over his kit, wailing away on the tops, sides, rims, and any other place he could reach with his sticks. The best way to describe his style would be “tribal,” but the image that that word inspires may be a bit off. Think Tom Tom Club, but more complicated.
There’s that word again, “complicated.” All of this makes it seem like Ravenna Woods is geared for the math rock crowd, but that’s simply not the case. The songs themselves are very melody driven, even if they do have the occassional prog-rock rhythm change in the middle.
Then I got to see them again in November, allowing me to elaborate on my previous review:
I didn’t have much to say back then about the third guy in the band, Brantley Duke, mainly because I was a bit dazed from the whole performance. For this past Saturday, I was positioned directly in front of him, and got to witness the deftness with which he switched instruments first hand. From the xylophone, to a hand-carried floor tom, to keyboards, all while singing up backup, he definitely holds his own. While Cunningham and Badger may be more showy, Duke’s the quiet force that holds the band solidly together.
Their performance at Neumos wasn’t too much of a departure from what I saw at Bumbershoot two months ago, but I have no problem with that. This time, however, their overall sound struck me differently. Their wide-ranging instrumentation and complicated rhythms reminded me of another trio I’m quite fond of: Menomena, out of Portland. Mix that with the complex harmonies of bands like Local Natives, and you start to get a picture of Ravenna Woods’ sound.
Some reviews seemingly write themselves, and some I can just throw together from past reviews. While I don’t go into this specific album in the reviews above, the same is true of both full-lengths Ravenna Woods currently has available. Pick up Valley of the Headless Men and give it a listen. If you like it, be sure to grab Demons & Lakes as well. Then check these guys out live, and be floored.
14. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two by Beastie Boys
15. James Blake by James Blake
16. Hysterical by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
17. An Argument with Myself by Jens Lekman
18. The Whole Love by Wilco
19. My Goodness by My Goodness
20. My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men
21. Gloss Drop by Battles
22. Showroom of Compassion by CAKE
23. A New Kind of House EP by Typhoon
24. EP by Grouplove
25. Fan Chosen Covers (Best of) by Eef Barzelay
26. TKOL RMX 1234567 by Radiohead
27. Organ Music Not Virbraphone Like I’d Hoped by Moonface
28. Heavy Boots & Underwoods by Ben Fisher
29. The Rip Tide by Beirut
30. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
31. I Am Very Far by Okkervil River