I’ve Got a Fever and the Only Cure is More Wood Block

Dan Tarnowski

A wood block is a percussion instrument identified by its rectangular box shape and open sides. It can be struck with a drumstick or mallet to achieve a resonant ‘klonk’ or ‘donk’ sound, similar to the sound of knocking on a table top or desk. A wood block is a bit like an agogo bell or jam block, but composed of wood.

It’s surprisingly hard to find rock and pop songs that contain a wood block. Sure, the wood block’s extroverted brother, the cowbell, openly honky-tonks itself up and down the canon of rock music. But where is the love for the soft, warm, acoustic slap of a WB?

The song that turned me on to the wood block was ‘Mile Marker’ by Appleseed Cast. Its subdued indie is the perfect venue to house some tasteful wood block, and boy does it ever. When I first heard ‘Mile Marker,’ I instantly identified the delectable wooden donks as produced by the same instrument I had played in middle-school band.

Since then, I’ve only found four other songs that contain the wood block. Luckily, that’s enough to make this list of 5 Songs that Contain Wood Block.

múm – I’m 9 Today

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múm, like many early 2000’s electronic artists, back their songs with plenty of clickity, clackity drum rolls. But what sets them apart from some of the more sterile IDM of their peers is the warmth of their music. Their skittering percussion is sampled from instruments chosen for their organic timbres—things like stick clicks, finger snaps, and of course, tasty, tasty wood blocks.

The Beatles – I Will

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This acoustic song has some surprisingly wild wood blocking that you may not have noticed. I once watched Ringo Starr explain in a documentary that his drum parts are his chance to express himself, and an important element in achieving his distinctive parts is to never play the same drum fill twice. It makes sense that he’d go to town on a small detail like a wood block part.

Vic Chesnutt – Stupid Preoccupations

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This song, featuring just acoustic guitar and a woodblock, is the face of spareness. The guitar and wood block trade off in an eerie dance that makes one hear and feel the air between the two instruments. The echo of the wood block adds to the live sound of this song; as AMG aptly observed in their review of the album ‘West of Rome,’ “Chesnutt and company sound like they’re playing in your living room.”

Silver Scooter – Albert Hall

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Silver Scooter is a band I love for their ability to craft perfect pop. While their early material sounds like a three-piece that simply plugged in their instruments, turned up the dials, and started rocking, their later albums employ a mastery of subtle accents and textures. The maracas, woodblock, and ride cymbals at the beginning of ‘Albert Hall’ add such momentum to the spiraling guitar part here, it’s as if the introduction is a tightening rubber band poised to slingshot the song’s chorus into the stratosphere.

Appleseed Cast – Mile Marker

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This wood block “on-the-up-beat” technique adds some real saunter to this hushed pop song. ‘Mile Marker’ serves as a stop-gap during the atmospheric double album, ‘Low Level Owl,’ an album that features cataclysmic staircases of sound, as well as melodic little nuggets like this one.

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