Portland’s The Woolen Men is one of the most prolific post punk groups working today. Their eclectic mix of jangle and propulsive rock shines through in their 2019 release Human to Human. What I really enjoy about this record is the amount of creative restraint this album exhibits, done in such a way that every musical element gets to shine through. First and foremost is the bass, which never fails to create a compelling groove with each song. The drums are strong and resolute, giving a strong foundation while the guitars’ minimalistic presence makes it all the more precious when it gets the spotlight. Last and not least is Raf Spielman’s distinct vocals – which is the main element in this album that gives the record it’s cynical post-punk flair. His delivery manages to be foreboding while mostly maintaining a laid-back demeanor. Human to Human is made up of these small yet impactful subtleties which altogether makes for a great listen. It’s not post-punk that leaps in to bombard your senses with loud stimuli, but it leaves a big impact just the same.
Opener “Mexico City Blues” immediately telegraphs how fun this record is, with bright fuzzy guitars and a bouncy groove. On paper it’s a prototypical post-punk song with a lighter groove, catchy jangle and an irresistible bass line that one would be hard pressed to not dance along with. “Space Invader” on the other hand has a more urgent drive to it, much like flickering emergency lights that warn you of danger or an encrypted morse code urging you to get out of dodge. The line: “No man is right To shoot without asking twice That could’ve been me on the ground Hands raised in self defense” is delivered perfectly, a message so apt for our current times.
“Ecstacy of an Ant” is one of the few oddballs in this record, yet it’s certainly one of the better ones here. This song is slow and seductive, with riffs laced with intrigue and a groove that oozes with forbidden desire, a feeling that reminds me of The Police’s classic Roxanne.
The band closes out with another weird banger. “Crash” takes away the drums in place of a backdrop of synths. In it Spielman feels more sorrowful as he laments on the eventual collapse of our civilization in a prophetic and speculative kind of way, with allusions to an upcoming war that’s written on a diagram, a collapse that may be too late to stop.
Human to Human is another solid addition to The Woolen Men’s discography, proving that quality isn’t necessarily sacrificed with quantity. If anything, this record makes them look stronger than ever.