With a band like Woods, it’s hard to narrow down what drives such a deep appreciation for what they continually put out. Really, you could say their albums feel like a canonical work, with each release sounding like a well-intentioned step forward. Does Woods branch out? They do, especially on their new album. But in doing so, there’s a signature to what is put forth. You know it’s Woods regardless of the next step taken. Next step taken… maybe that’s what it is – each album feels like a next step towards something different.

What we are getting at is most apparent in “Creature Comfort.” Although it’s the second track, it does feel like the bridge that gets you between With Love & With Light and the new album. With its comforting Woods-branded shining light, “let me hold you again” might be a bit sadly sentimental, but you know the embrace is 100% genuine. That’s not to say the cool PNW breeze of soul-tinged folk funk that opens the album with “Sun City Creeps” doesn’t connect things. It’s a solid track – dusty, set in a poorly patronized bar in the middle of nowhere – but there’s just something about the comfort of that second song.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt in the case of City Sun Eater… though. Unsurprisingly, you yearn for the new world the band has stepped into – full of more clarity and risks than the band has taken in several albums. “Morning Light” stays in this place and time frame they’ve established, but switches to a classic country sound, similar to their previous album a bit. “Shed a teardrop as I leave my body” is sung as the track is wiping away tears after what’s been a way too difficult period of time.

Another thing about Woods is how connected their music makes you feel. This takes on a bit of a spiritual feel – like a ritual around a fire during the quite brief “Hang it on your Wall,” a time stamp that’s more reminiscent of their older selves, but full of fresh life breathed into their lungs.

One facet of growth that seems more transparent, at least to us, is the sprawling expanse and avenues given to the instrumentation. Horns, synth, power chords, etc. are all present throughout various times. Something instrument-centric like “The Take” pushes creative limits, while “Politics of Free” delivers a track about as anthemic as Woods has ever gotten. And a song like “I See in the Dark” could absolutely be a track in a late 70s film.

With the threads that weave everything together, the band will still do as they please. You could argue the final three tracks on the album are the strongest. The aforementioned “Politics of Free” makes the “us v. them” mentality seem a lot more communal – like a gathering rather than an overwhelming weight to push against. “The Other Side,” our favorite track, feels like another SW desert track, but the words and sounds get a lot more emotive pretty fast. Wedging the best song in as the penultimate track? Why not? Because “there will always be a space for you.” And as “Hollow Home” sees the album out the door, you get a sitting on your porch, reflectively observing everything in sight, type of track. You understand there’s a bit of emptiness and dealing with how to fill any holes if necessary. That’s perfectly fine.

Is this the new Woods? Maybe. But see the old Woods isn’t really going anywhere either. The album is out now on Woodsist. Joey Smith