Boomkat Product Review:
Damn this one's special. Previously unreleased and almost lost, "Back to the Woodlands" was written around the same time as the Oregonian original's iconic "Neighborhoods", and combines washy field recordings with magical zither sounds and subtle synth lines to create jangling cinematic soundscapes that are surprisingly memorable. RIYL Laraaji, Midori Takada, Ennio Morricone or even Broadcast.
In 2019, Freedom To Spend unveiled a private press reissue that actually made us take a step back for a moment. It was the sole release from Portland, Oregon's Ernest Hood, an ex-jazz player who'd lost his ability to play guitar after a brush with polio in his 20s. Stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he had to find another way of making music so he learned to play the zither, soon performing on records by Flora Purim, George Duke and Stanley Clarke. Hood had a radio show in Portland, and made field recordings and musical sketches to flesh out his broadcasts; eventually, he used these ideas as the basis for "Neighborhoods", an album that sought to recapture the mood of a city that was already changing beyond recognition. "Back to the Woodlands" was recorded during the same era, and works as a companion piece to its predecessor, capturing the same magical mood and extending Hood's depth as a composer and producer. His sonic palette is very similar - zither, synthesizers and field recordings - and the material again works as a time capsule that transports us back to a period in the pacific northwest that's very different from the one we're experiencing currently.
For an artist that's caught up in the narrative of ambient and new age music, there's a wiriness to Hood's composition and production that's no doubt assisted by his jazz chops. There are moments on "Back to the Woodlands" where he sounds more motivated by high drama movie soundtracks or shimmering library/lounge music than the reverberating ambient material he'd be catalogued next to decades later. And while early tracks like 'Noonday Yellows' and 'Rain' sound like Laraaji on a West Coast vacation, or even Hiroshi Yoshimura, ornate tracks like 'Bedroom of the Absent Child' and particularly the synthesizer-led 'Fragrant Duff' are a day-zero precursor to later psychedelic experimentation from Broadcast, Plone or The Advisory Circle. Hood's interest in creating site-specific soundtracks using technology and instrumentation that would correlate with his mobility issues coaxed him into a style of writing that was completely singular and still sounds pure - in an era where this kind of expression is far more commonplace, Hood's compositions are still magical, and still capture a moment in time that sounds a step removed from the established canon. Huge recommendation.