Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist S.R. Woodward is not your average clean-cut, guitar-strumming, doe-eyed heartthrob. No, this guy is far too weird for that racket. Combining slightly-flat-yet-charming harmonies sung in a baritone warble with peppy, synthesized musical backing tracks, he’s a troubadour of minimalist ditties that lie somewhere between cheeky and heartfelt.
His MySpace page cites influences that range from XTC and Todd Rundgren to Tiny Tim and the Residents (and of course Zappa), with some Prince, Parliament, and Earth, Wind & Fire thrown in for good measure. So Woodward’s funky blend of sarcasm and honesty has a definite origin. And while Vertical Integration can at times feel like one big piss-take, Woodward’s sense of fun keeps the album from delving into too-dumb or unlistenable terrain most of the time.
I’m not saying that formula doesn’t have its moments of forehead-slap-inducing silliness and gimmickry, but I admit it’s refreshing to hear an Ian Curtisy guy geek out with aplomb on odes to masturbation (“It’s Not Dirty”), book-borrowing paranoia (“Library Fines”) and self-discovery (“What Do I Want to Say?”), a rap track full of strange sounds and nonsequitors like the following: “I could be a pauper preaching social relevance/Go proletariat and straddle the fence/Go bourgeois and just make you dance/What do I want to say?” Alright, now imagine They Might Be Giants drunk on malt liquor, high on crack and decked out in velvet pimp robes playing with cheap instruments in the background, and you start to get the picture.
There are some cool, distorted, patched-in sounding guitar solos that pop up at random intervals, a surprisingly strong and almost sweet piano ballad in “The Promise Song,” and some obvious toss-offs, like the Fennesz-style ambient drone-tronica piece“Living Forever.”
I’m sure Woodward is interesting live. I’d love to see him with a full band. I submit that with some more kazoos and maybe some helium backing vocals thrown in here and there, his particular sound would be nearing perfection. Anyway, Vertical Integration feels like an eccentric singer-songwriter still in his nascent phase. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out for him in the near future. I hope he goes psychedelic. He may be on the precipice of geek greatness.