By all accounts, Josh Woodward is just some guy from Ohio. He’s one of those Internet indie guitarists. You know those guys. They put up all their music for free on their website. And when I say all their music, I mean all of it. Like six albums’ worth. And they like to write oddly catchy tunes about heartbreak, girls, and keeping people under your stairs (seriously).
This week all five tracks come from the prolific Mr. Woodward. They’re off his 2006 joint Only Whispering, on which he does a lot more than whisper. Way to mislabel your album, sir.
To mix it up, I eschewed a traditional “Recommendations” section this time around, as all five songs gave me something to discuss. First time for everything!
A sweet, forlorn tune. The music, with its laid-back melancholy, feels best suited for a coffeehouse or freshman quad. But with the Steep tag on, the problems of isolation presented in the lyrics become pressing. Woodward’s tone shifts from what might be considered brooding when you’re watching him over a steaming latte to a more active searching. Though I’m sure it’s not what he intended, the tension of the ride adds an otherwise nonexistent layer to the song. Traffic isn’t heavy, but it moves quickly, making it hard to plan pickups and even harder should you make one minor mistake. Quite a metaphor for life, I’d say.
This ride is, well, it’s alright. Visually, it’s got a lot of potential, as Woodward’s longing croons generate a lot of tunnels. There are also plenty of quick hills in the track, the ones that feel like someone’s at the other end flapping it like a dusty rug. The traffic remains mellow, despite the Steep tag, so you’ll be hard pressed to get a high score on this one. I can’t quite tell what he’s dealing with lyrically. Maybe it’s about a breakup, or maybe it’s about helping a girl through an abortion – sensitive material, already tread expertly by Mr. Folds. Folds’ influence is all over this song, as is that of Sufjan Stevens in his quieter moments. Not to mention that parts of the melody bear an uncanny resemblance to the opening of “Space Oddity.” Puzzling lyrics and blatant influences aside, you should ride this song if you value Audiosurf’s potential as a visualizer over its game aspect.
If you look at the graph for this one, it shouldn’t be too hard to find the pattern of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. I don’t point that out as a negative. In fact, the tight, familiar structure lies at the heart of this song’s success. The song is about bidding your comfort zone goodbye, and the comfort zone of pop songwriting is used to its fullest here. Verses build expectedly toward choruses. The second chorus gives way to an uphill bridge, which in turn sets up an even more fervent final chorus. Each section spawns different patterns of traffic, which fit in with the theme of forward motion in the lyrics. This is highlighted in the track by tunnels cropping up in accordance with chiming bells, signaling a change of seasons. “Goodbye to Spring” may sound like something you’ve heard before. And it may ride like something you’ve ridden before. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play this song.
Quite honestly, this one surprised me. Repeatedly. The opening elicited a hearty “meh,” with Woodward just plucking on his guitar. I assumed I was in for a fairly downtempo meditation on bored people in positions of power. Instead, Woodward skillfully ratchets up the intensity in segments. What starts as plucking soon turns to upbeat strumming, which is soon joined by some fantastic slap bass. Then he kicks it up a notch again, adding electric guitar. All of this serves to support the song’s theme of fruitless escalation. He sings about drinking prom queens, juicing baseball players, and a president “pushing buttons with a half-baked plan/Like a stoner with a PS2” trying to “beat his daddy’s score.” I haven’t decided if the lyrics feel forced. In the meantime, I’ll give him credit for making me interested enough to look them up. Don’t be fooled by the broken bell curve or the low traffic count, this one’s worth your time. If even just to weigh in on his lyrics.
Again the Steep tag passes with (literal) flying colors. “Fit for a King” resembles the work of Jonathon Coulton, with its tight vocal harmonies, pop/folk vibe, and storytelling lyrics. The song tells a story of a boastful monarch who throws a banquet to celebrate recent tyrannical triumphs. Our narrator stabs the king and (I love this line) watches “His bloodline spewing upon the marble.” Woodward matches this dramatic moment with a huge crescendo in the music, mimicked wonderfully by the track, which begins careening at a breakneck pace. Red tunnels abound, weaving back and forth like so many trails of blood. Sure, it sounds a little gross. And of course it’s melodramatic. But the ride’s a blast, and at the end of the day that’s all I need.
Each song was played on the Pro difficulty using the Vegas and Eraser characters. I need to spend some non-blogging time to really delve into Pointman use. I’m sure it can only do me good.