Published Nov 04, 2020Since bursting onto the scene nearly 14 years ago, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Donovan Woods has been a beacon of Canadian folk. His latest record, Without People, was recorded remotely by Woods and company, and furthers his reputation as a steady, likeable artist.
As a whole, the record is quirkily conventional, as it takes standard pop structures and stretches them just far enough to excite a refined ear without losing some semblance of accessibility. Most passages seem pleasantly familiar, yet unique enough to be their own entities.
At times, Woods plays it safe, channelling Ed Sheeran during the poppy choruses of "We Used To" and "Seeing Other People" while doing a convincing Phillip Phillips impression on "Clean Slate." It might not be the most enrapturing of musical moods in this particular context, but it's incredibly an incredibly easy and fun listen.
Elsewhere, Woods experiments with layered city soundscapes on "Without People" and "Interlude" and paints beautifully intimate pictures of heartbreak and triumph on "Whole Way Home" and "Whatever Keeps You Going." Most of the album's tracks start sensibly, but then veer off in melodically intriguing directions, with the squiggly contour of "High Season" and the surprisingly groovy ending on "Lonely People" exemplifying this sharpness.
Perhaps the best blend of the two sides of Woods' writing on the album is the infectiously lush "She Waits for Me to Come Back Down," which combines the rich and resonant tone of guest vocalist Katie Pruitt with Woods' self-deprecating hopelessness. It's this slightly off-kilter approach to songwriting that allows Woods to cleverly steer the genre's traditional form without alienating listeners.
In the most introspective way possible, Without People is an album that needs to be listened to more than once. It may seem typical at first glance, but digging a little deeper will reveal an earnest selection of songs laden with personality, observance and conviction. (Meant Well)