Fueled by the sound of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Kayne West, Glasgow-based Woodenbox, set about recording their sophomore album End Game at Chem 19 recording studio in Hamilton. Given Woodenbox’s somewhat eclectic soundtrack, it’s no surprise that End Game is a similarly eclectic album. Best described as genre-sprawling, the Glasgow-based folk sextet had come a long way since their 2010 debut album Home and The Wildhunt. Released to critical acclaim, Home and The Wildhunt was one the best Scottish albums of 2010. Fast forward a year, to September 2011, and recording of their sophomore album End Game, which was released in March 2013, was underway. 

The venue was Chem 19 recording studios in Hamilton. Woodenbox were joined by producer Paul Savage. Previously, Paul had produced Arab Strap, Franz Ferdinand and The Phantom Band. His job was to harness Woodenbox’s genre-melting music, with the melodic sound that featured on Home and The Wildhunt. For the sessions, ten new tracks had been written by Woodenbox. They were recorded at Chem 19 on 19th August 2011 and during October 2012. Everyone Has A Price was chosen as the lead single from what became End Game. It was released in March 2012, to coincide with Woodenbox’s first US tour. Woodenbox had come a long way since they were formed in 2008.

It was back in 2008 when Woodenbox were formed. Back then, they were originally called Woodenbox With A Box Fivers. The mariachi folk sextet’s lineup included vocalist Ali Downer who plays acoustic guitar and piano, plus a rhythm section of drummer Nick Dudman, guitarist Jordan Croan and bassist and organist Fraser Mckirdy. They were joined by the horn section of trumpeter Phil Caldwell and saxophonist Sam Evans. What brought them together was a love of The Beatles, mariachi and spaghetti westerns. A year later, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers would release their debut album.

Home and The Wildhunt, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers’ debut album was released in 2009. It was no ordinary album. Not at all. This was part of their college project. Just like Belle and Sebastian before them, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers had to release an album. Having written and recorded Home and The Wildhunt, it was released through the Electric Honey label, which was home to Biffy Clyro and Belle and Sebastian. What started as a college project quickly grew legs. Critically acclaimed upon its release, Home and The Wildhunt featured a band who were certainly not lacking in talent. So a decision was made to shorten the band’s name. After all, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers didn’t exactly roll off your tongue? Now called Woodenbox, the Glasgow-based folk sextet started the next chapter of their career.

By 2010, Woodenbox’s debut album Home and The Wildhunt was being played on national radio. Mark Radcliffe, Huw Stephens, Steve Lamazq and Vic Galloway all were championing Woodenbox. Meanwhile, Woodenbox were touring throughout Scotland and further afield as they sought to hone their trademark sound. By 2011, Woodenbox were festival favorites and one of the hardest working bands.

During 2011, Woodenbox played some of Scotland’s biggest music festivals. T In The Park, The Wickerman Festival, Celtic Connections, Belladrum, Insider and The Hebridean Celtic Festival. When Woodenbox weren’t appearing at festivals, they played at venues across Scotland and England. Woodenbox also supported Gomez and The Alabama 3. Somehow, Woodenbox found time to record their sophomore album End Game.

With recording beginning in August 2011, this meant Woodenbox would have a single released to coincide with their first American tour. Everyone Has A Price was released in March 2012. After touring America, Woodenbox returned to the Britain and embarked upon a tour. After that tour was finished, End Game was completed in October 2012. Five months later, the ten-track End Game was released on Olive Grove Records in March 2013.

On the release of End Game in March 2013, critics were won over by the next chapter in Woodenbox’s musical journey. Released to critical acclaim, the ten-track genre-sprawling End Game was perceived as a much more cohesive album. Considering each of the ten tracks were group efforts, that’s even more remarkable. No longer were Woodenbox beholden to one or two songwriters. Everyone played their part in End Game, which I’ll now tell you about.

Opening End Game is Roll for Me, a genre-sprawling track. Everything from rock, psychedelia, jazz and ska combine with The Beatles, power and drama. The arrangement is driven along by pounding drums and stabs of keyboards. It accompanies a vocal that’s been influenced by classic rock. Impassioned and earnest, it’s joined by jazz-tinged, blazing horns. They add to the drama and emotion, as the arrangement takes detours via ska and psychedelia. Later, the track becomes anthemic, Woodenbox sounding like musical veterans, seamlessly fusing musical genres.

As Courage unfolds, so do the reference points. The songs sounds as if it belongs on a David Lynch soundtrack. Then there’s the vocal. It veers between classic Scott Walker and later, as it grows in power, Elvis Costello as it delivers some of the best lyrics on End Game. Jangling Byrdsian guitars quiver and shiver, giving the track a psychedelic sound. They’re joined by keyboards, the rhythm section and sultry horns who along with the vocal, drive this track to its dramatic and poignant crescendo.

King’s Liar is a truly compelling track. After all, how often do you hear a Scottish band marry a samba beat with acoustic guitar? Meandering along, pensive acoustic guitars give way to a skanking beat. It’s a remarkable transformation, but one that’s irresistible. Burst of pounding drums, oompah horns and barrelhouse piano combine with a vocal that oozes emotion and regret. A real sing-a-long track, this is bound to a festival favorite that’ll get the party started.

Royal Mile is another track that once you’ve heard it, won’t forget. Dark and dramatic, an elastic, meandering bass line grabs your attention. So does the worldweary vocal and shimmering guitars. Having started slowly, the tempo quickens. Later, pounding drums drive the arrangement along. They inject drama while soothing harmonies and braying horns prove a perfect fit as the track heads towards an ending that’s best described as melancholy and Beatles-esque. 

If you’re in pursuit of the perfect pop song, look no further than Beautiful Terrible. It  literally bursts into life. The rhythm section, complete with flamboyant flourishes of drums and guitars take charge. They’re augmented by bursts of horns and Beach Boys’ influenced harmonies. They accompany a vocal that’s delivered at breakneck speed, adding “slow down.” This hook-laden slice of pop perfection has a sting in its tail, with the unforgettable lyric: “it’s a beautiful day, a beautiful hour, but a terrible night.”

Everyone Has a Price was chosen as the lead single from End Game. It’s another track where Woodenbox demonstrate just how talented they are as songwriters. Capable of writing funny, quirky and intelligent songs, here, Woodenbox have penned a song full of anger, frustration and social comment. Keyboards and rhythm section are joined by mariachi horns and a scatted vocal. Heartfelt, the lyrics are delivered with passion. Frustration fills Ali’s vocal as he almost spits out: “reasons to be giving, are mostly to receive,” “nobody’s a good man, while everyone’s a crook” and “nobody thinks twice when Everyone Has a Price.” A seething, raging song full of social comment, it’s a sad indictment on modern society.

Easy Life has a real melancholy, folk-tinged sound. Keyboards and acoustic guitar provide a wistful backdrop for the vocal. A booming drum provides the heartbeat and hint at what’s about to happen. Cooing harmonies provide a contrast. All of a sudden, Woodenbox decide to kick loose. Combing rock, folk and a Celtic sound this tale of homecoming, takes on an anthemic sound. Veering between anthemic and an elegant gliding waltz, it’s a compelling, beautiful track that has made in Scotland written all over it.

Race to the Flood shows another side to Woodenbox’s music. Influenced by free jazz and Bruce Springsteen, it’s a dramatic epic. Think Thunder Road, then add the theatre of Queen, and you’re halfway there. With the rhythm section and keyboards providing a dramatic backdrop for the vocal, it’s delivered with power, frustration and emotion. A sneering Ali sings: “but I can show you how to hate, yeah, your dumb enough to take the bait.” Wave after wave of dramatic music unfolds, as braying horns fill in the spaces on this slice of dramatic everyman music.

Waves of acoustic guitar open Asphyxiation, accompanying Ali’s wistful vocal. Harmonies coo before drums pound and guitars quiver and resonate. Stabs of keyboards accompany his deliberate vocal. It’s full of resignation. Questioning he asks: “where have you been and where are you coming from?” Then as the track reaches the bridge, it begins to unfold. Everything comes together. Briefly, Woodenbox sound like R.E.M, albeit with free jazz horns adding to the sense of confusion and drama. Like so many of Woodenbox’s songs, producer Paul Savage’s contribution is huge, putting the pieces of the song together to create a track that’s an emotive, edgy opus.

Closing End Game, Woodenbox’s sophomore album is Save Yourself. Very briefly, when you hear the stabs of keyboards, you can’t help but think of Supertramp’s Logical Song. That’s but a fleeting thought. After all, you don’t want to miss the ethereal beauty of Save Yourself? From ethereal, the track becomes dark and dramatic. Ali’s vocal accompanies the keyboards, while sweeping harmonies and dramatic, driving drums join forces with searing guitars. The lyrics are dark, witty, intelligent and cynical. They’re reminiscent of Lloyd Cole one minute, the next, The Beatles. Delivered with emotion, frustration and sometimes, a sneer, Ali’s saved one of his best vocals until last. Similarly, Woodenbox have kept some of their best lyrics until last, on a track that sees Woodenbox continue on their pursuit of pop perfection.

Just five years after they were founded, Woodenbox released their sophomore album End Game. It’s a slick, accomplished and genre-melting album. Indeed, it’s so polished you forget that Woodenbox are a relatively new band. While that’s the case, they’re certainly not lacking experience. Their years of constant touring have helped them hone their sound. Over the past few years, as Woodenbox toured the length and breadth of Scotland, and later further afield, they’d become festival favorites. That’s no surprise, given their music is anthemic and hook-laden. Many of the ten tracks of End Game would be festival favorites. Indeed, I’m sure King’s Liar, Beautiful Terrible, Easy Life and Race To The Flood would go down a storm at festivals this summer. They’re just four of the tracks from End Game, which is a fusion of musical genres. 

Everything from folk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, rock and ska are combined by the Glasgow-based folk sextet on End Game. The ten tracks were written by Woodenbox and became End Game. These tracks contain lyrics that are intelligent, witty, surreal and cynical. End Game’s lyrics were brought to life by a tight, talented and accomplished group of musicians. As for vocalist Ali Downer, he breathes life, meaning and emotion into them. Then there’s the production. 

End Game was produced by Paul Savage. He played an important part in the End Game’s success. Paul’s experience allows his to structure the songs in such a way that they’re most effective. His production style allows you to hear the different layers of music. Brought together, these layers of music veer between dramatic, edgy, ethereal, anthemic and hook-laden. Having worked with successful groups before, Paul knows what makes a successful album. Paul played an important part in the success of End Game, an album whose songs are anthemic, dark, dramatic, hook-laden, intelligent and introspective. That’s the perfect way to describe Woodenbox’s genre-sprawling, sophomore album End Game, which is the perfect introduction to one of Scotland’s best bands. Standout Tracks: King’s Liar, Beautiful Terrible, Easy Life and Race To The Flood.


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