THE WOOLEN MEN never intended for their self-titled album to be their first widely distributed release. Like the material they'd recorded up until then, The Woolen Men was self-recorded and pressed onto cassette to dispense at live shows. It wasn't until they reached an agreement with Jeremy Earl of the Woodsist record label that the 10-song album saw a release on the national level in 2013. The halfhearted response it earned from critics and listeners alike, however, was troubling to the Portland band.
With the release of the Woolen Men's new LP, Temporary Monument, the trio of bassist Alex Geddes and multi-instrumentalists/singers Lawton Browning and Raf Spielman wanted to solicit a more focused reaction.
"The response we've gotten so far for this record has been much more thoughtful than the first record," says Spielman. Both Spielman and Browning were dismayed by the ham-handed coverage of their last album. Browning, inspired by reading the work of journalist Nick Tosches, challenged critics and reviewers to risk a "real review" of Temporary Monument—"an actual honest-to-god conversation with what we just made and how it fits into all the shit that's goin' on right now."
"I knew what was coming," says Browning. "I knew we were gonna get some reviews. I wanted to let people know that what's important to me is that it be more than PR click-bait shit. I was trying to get someone who really thought of themselves as a critic to grapple with it, whether they liked it or not."
"Whether that first record was good or bad, it was easy to ignore," says Spielman. "With this record, we wanted something that would push people a little bit and provoke a strong response."
That concern is understandable, given the darker, more topical nature of Temporary Monument. The album is stacked with choppy, Television-tight '80s-style punk anthems that zero in on a squirming local scene's common enemy: New Portland.
Urban renewal and gentrification are summed up via the Woolen Men's buzzsaw guitars and scathing diatribes that yearn for salvation from the upending of an underground culture. "Clean Dreams" is a manifesto that rails against what the band dubs "the great Smooth Face that gazes once and moves on." The critique is furthered in titles like "Alien City" and "Life in Hell," and lines like "a city full of ghosts" from the rambunctious title track.
"Pretty early on, we recognized some of the themes that were happening," Browning says.
"It wasn't necessarily that conscious when we were writing the songs," adds Spielman. "But as the songs came together, it became clear that this was something that was on all of our minds."
Throughout the band's six years in existence, their tireless work ethic has yielded a slew of self-released EPs, split releases, and tour-only tapes, as well as live shows in a spectrum of venues, from basements to coffee shops to larger clubs like Dante's. The Woolen Men's prolificacy and flexibility are invaluable attributes in the face of an evolving landscape for independent bands. So it's with a refreshing gulp that Temporary Monument defiantly utters the displeasure that a good lot of Portland—and the metropolitan landscape beyond—has harbored for the last few years.
"I would like people to listen to it and [know that] no matter what city you're in, other people are going through a frustration or a feeling of having to overcome struggle," says Browning. "We're going through the same thing."