Various Artists
Welcome Home/Diggin’ the Universe: A Woodsist Compilation

Record label born and bred compilations are a slippery slope. Are they promotional items priced low to lead listeners towards catalog titles? Are they conceptually vacant and hastily designed, thereby leaving the grab-bag randomness of 12 different bands in a perpetual state of incongruence? Is this the best representation of this label and are these the best the bands had to offer at the time, not just B-side filler? It’s rare that you’ll ever hang on to a compilation that long, unless it’s for that “one song.” And if you do, it’s likely to be a pretty special memento with some lasting resonance, not just some ephemeral smorgasbord.

It’s likely Jeremy Earls, the modest visionary behind the burgeoning Warwick, New York label Woodsist wouldn’t have released Welcome Home/Diggin’ the Universe if it weren’t an artifact he’d like as a vital part of his tiny empire, a record he’d want to listen to over and over. One can imagine that Welcome Home started as a mixtape, conceived and assembled by Earls, of his friends’ bands, labelmates, and far-off pen pals. He then proceeded to scrawl his ubiquitous illustrations on the cover (a hallmark of Woodsist’s wholly genuine dreamcatcher aesthetics) in an effort to corral the entirety of his roster under one massive stone ’n’ straw prayer tent, hanging in the balance of night and day. The seamlessness of the tape (now a record) makes for repeat listens—no interruptions and no skipping ahead—and does a nice job of making room for everything (and then some), from the punchy gunk of “Bad Movies” by San Francisco’s Mantles to the wavering bliss of City Center’s infinitely echoed cover of the Dead’s “Box of Rain.”

At least half of Welcome Home signals a westward expansion of sorts—a move by Earl towards his favorite artists on the left coast—a place where the reverberations of halcyon days bounce off trees and surf and communal urbanity, even if the remaining counterculture is assessing their estates instead of protesting oil spills and championing medical marijuana. Like the late-80s and early-90s label compilations mentioned in the same breath with this one, Woodsist truly appears to dodge modern signifiers and trends, building a heady counterculture of their own here. There’s a bounty of that California love onboard and Woodsist’s continued accumulation of bands from that region seems to weave a bricolage of positive vibes from Brooklyn to Big Sur. That salty, moonlit atmosphere is pumped in via the puffy exhaust of Moon Duo’s slightly dubbed, slightly spooky, then slightly fried, re-interpretation of reggae obscurity “A Little Way Different,” proving Ripley Johnson can alchemize any rare groove into his own hypnotic warlock trip. Moon Duo’s vintage futurist jams are the perfect foil to Woods’ toes-in-the-walnuts acoustic psych-jelly. “I’m Not Gone,” is the easing in of the East Coast, shedding the soot of the street, eventually travellin’ and soaking in the Pacific. It’s a song that exemplifies Woods and Woodsist’s retreat. Whether it’s here, there, or way out there, the remaining gold standard comes in prickly pop songs, met with improvised solos, idiosyncrasy, and abject recording techniques.

It’s fitting that a guy like Glenn Donaldson is completely initiated into the Woodsist tribe, as his hazy pop slack fingerprints are all over the compilation, starting with the, perhaps overly poetic, liner notes. His first contribution comes in the form of a particularly drowsy, yet illuminating, cover of the Cure’s “Catch,” by his flagship psych outfit, the Skygreen Leopards. His second, the Art Museums’ “Darling Are You Out of Your League Again,” is centered between two similarly energetic representations of the two sides of loft-punk and off-balance quirk pop by Brooklyn’s Cause Co-Motion and Oakland’s Nodzzz respectively. Even when these two bands sound like dumb kids doing dumb Ramones, there’s something deceptively witty and post-grad about their musings. The Nodzzz’s “Old Clothes” most significantly nails this feeling by injecting just enough distorted clamor and educated lines of jangle to their playing. Even as the paisley ’60s blur of Run DMT’s highlight “Richard” or the flamenco-freak-folk playing of Ducktails on the instrumental closer “Sun Out My Window” come from a niche in some ultimate record collection, each one is the slightest bit “off,” and where that “off” meanders is where they all meet in the middle.
Kevin J. Elliott