The Promise Ring - Wood/Water (Cover Artwork)

The Promise Ring

Wood/Water (2002)

Anti/Foreign Leisure

It's common to hear artists talk about the stylistic detours they will be taking on their new albums. Most are simply trying to revitalize a flagging career or avoid being pigeonholed by adding some exotic instruments or electronic beats. And most of the time the album doesn't come out sounding much different from the artist's previous work. However, rarely there is an album different enough from an artist's back catalogue to throw everyone for a loop, no matter how much the artist has tried to prepare the public for the change (see, for instance, Pet Sounds). The Promise Ring's Wood/Water falls solidly into that category.

In many ways, this is the traditional "growing up" album career artists inevitably produce; however, most artists hit that point while their careers are still building, not when they are established artists with over six years of experience under their belts. Singer Davey VonBohlen reiterates thoughts of doubt about his choice of career throughout the album, from the line "in a second life, I'd never become a singer...they've all gone mad, sad and lonely" in "Get on the Floor" to the sobrioquet "if I had a dime for every time I should have stopped playing guitar and put my nose in a book, my head would be healthy, my guitar would be dusty, and that might just save me from a bunch of bad songs" in "Stop Playing Guitar." These doubts are juxtaposed with the fact that the band sounds more sure and together than ever before, including new bassist Ryan Weber.

In fact, this album shows off guitarist Jason Gnewikow and drummer Dan Didier more than any of their previous work; Gnewikow reveals himself to be the glue holding the band together musically, and illustrates his ability to know when to take control or back off wonderfully. This good judgement is something that is often lacking in an age when many guitarists simply wank away, the equivilent of talking just to hear yourself speak. Didier is given meatier parts than before, expanding beyond traditional punk and rock styles. The production by Steven Street is also terrific, giving the record an overall ambience without being conspicuous.

The mainstream press has often spoken of the fact that the members of the Promise Ring listen to mainstream pop and rock, often harping on the band's love of artists such as Sheryl Crow and the Wallflowers. That populist influence shows heavily on Wood/Water, as there is no punk rock precedent one can compare the album to, save perhaps Husker Du. Listening to the album, the two records most remeniscent of Wood/Water are Wilco's Summerteeth and Travis's The Invisible Band, with hints of J Mascis's solo album. The Promise Ring are proving to be the new Husker Du, with a string of solid releases that, in my opinion, only improve on each other. Many have written off Wood/Water as just a way to escape the unfortunate label they've always been tagged with (you know what it is); however, the Promise Ring were always more than just a genre band. Listen without prejudice.