Just as XTC abandoned its spiky new-wave origins for pastoral folk pop, the Promise Ring trades its emo roots for a quieter atmosphere with the transitional Wood/Water. The disc is the Promise Ring's first album since frontman Davey von Bohlen's brain surgery last year, and while von Bohlen himself has joked that the surgeons removed his fast songs, it's obvious that this is a kinder, gentler Promise Ring.
The change is evident when the growing feedback squall of Wood/Water's opener, "Size of Your Life," backs off and gives way to a chugging Celtic pop reel rather than the anticipated punk chaos. The Ring doesn't forsake the volume knob, amping up the ambiance on "Get on the Floor" and the smoldering "Stop Playing Guitar," but things remain on the thoughtful side. Stripped of punk angst and delivery, von Bohlen's vocals take on a vulnerable Ray Davies-like tremble, especially on the energetic "Suffer Never" and the gorgeous pop lilt of "Become One Anything One Time."
Regardless of how the album is ultimately viewed contextually, Wood/Water is clearly a work of quiet intensity and reflective beauty that may be the Promise Ring's logical musical extension.