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LP (12" album, 33 rpm)
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Wooden Shjips stand at the forefront of modern psychedelic rock and present, West their first album for Thrill Jockey. The over riding theme for the album (as indicated by the title) is the American West, and all of the mythology, romanticism, and idealism that it embodies. The band members grew up on the East Coast, so for a long time the history and literature of the West was an abstraction and a fascination for them. It is easy to see why these would appeal to Wooden Shjips, as their music lends itself to exploration. It is both transformative and transporting, the sum being far greater than it's parts. The steady driving rhythms are the elliptical motion machine driven by the often thick and distorted guitar lines, melodic and boundless. Where they may lead cannot be anticipated but following them is exhilarating.
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As for the music, it's OK. Other reviewers laud the blistering guitar, but mostly what I hear is a 'shoegaze' style wall-of-sound where everything sort of blends together and nothing stands out.
I found this band by checking out bands Mondo Drag have played with, and I can only say that everything this band is lacking can be found on Mondo Drag's album 'New Rituals'. If you like 60s/70s worship rock, that's where I'd point you.
repetitive Krautrockin' keyboard rhythms and blistering, acid-lick guitar leads that bleed pure
hallucinatory glue into the black holes of the universe. Erik Ripley Johnson's stature as guitar
guru of the bong boys & girls is cemented by the visionary static blasts of flower-power riffs
pummeling the speaker cones. The songs are played with a natural, historic sense of 60s/70s
rock reverence that flows with the power of instinctual genius. These are potent, garagey black-
light anthems with the sort of raw, fuzz-buzz toughness that comes from deep inside and
manifests itself in moments of blazing inner-space rock brilliance. Shades of the Black Angels,
Spacemen 3, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Hawkwind, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Loop,
Pete International Airport, Suicide, Can, Velvet Underground, Crazy Horse. Includes members
of Moon Duo. Pure, rhythmic drug music; a psychedelic stunner!
On the evidence of "West" their first properly recorded studio album there is plenty more in the space shuttle tank. Much has been made of the bands debt to British drone rock pioneers "Loop" but frankly another hundred influences could be easily be delineated not least a sly nod towards the current uber obsession for many new bands the great German outfit Neu. What is the case is quite how good and accessible "West" is, despite the fact that the way the album is mixed leads you to question whether the drummers microphone next to his kit was turned off when it was recorded. Let us stress that this is a fuzzy guitar album par excellence but one that is so acid fired it could burn through a thick metal plate. In this sense while there are only seven tracks present at around 35 minutes it will leave you feeling musically full and sated. Starting points should be two central songs firstly the commercial "Lazy Bones" which starts off with a huge riff until a keyboard sneaks in and hey presto it's "the Cramps in orbit". This murky rock'n'roll married to huge guitar psychedelic guitar lines works perfectly as does Johnson's vocals, which portray not one jot of emotion or warmth. In the aforementioned "Flight" the band have produced an almost Spacemen 3 style anthem which starts by cheekily borrowing a slowed down version of the riff from Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" before bending different shapes over its seven minute plus trail of destruction. Keyboards and bass mix here to form a progressive extravaganza that should demand your attention, not least with guitar wig out that Josh Pearson could have happily slotted onto the Texas Jerusalem Crossroads.
With all this distortion/ feedback flying about some acknowledgement of Neil Young is entirely in order and comes in "Home" with a riff that takes a Crazy Horse guitar coda and thrashes the living daylights out of it. All in all its truly wondrous stuff and therefore rather sad to report a large misstep that comes on the last track "Rising". Ever since John Lennon did that backward guitar part on "Tomorrow never knows" every band with access to a studio seems to think it mandatory to try out the soundboard and produce an updated masterpiece. Alas while it's all very clever it doesn't really add that much to the earlier fireworks and detracts from the bands front facing dynamism. So it goes - we should be grateful for what has gone before and should you tire of track seven leave the CD on repeat and skip back to the brilliant echoed keyboard driven opener "Black Smoke Rise" which sounds like the Charlatans on crystal meth.
"West" is very much a surprise package. This is an album that could trouble the charts albeit entering at 189 and peaking at that. But the key point is that Wooden Shjips have produced an album of real galactic grandeur and depth while at the same time managing to infuse it with a dirty rock n roll sensibility. True it unravels in parts but that adds to its charm. Hold on a charming scuzzy space rock album, is that possible? The answer is yes and its called "West" by Wooden Shjips.
The good news is that once clear of the album's first two rather uneventful songs, Wooden Shjips hoists its sails and sets course for the open sea. On "Home" and "Looking Out" in particular, singer/guitarist Ripley Johnson loosens his gnarl, unfurling dazzling fretboard discourses overtop layers of looping white noise, a la Suicide.
Along with noise forebear Velvet Underground, synthpop pioneer Suicide is an ever-present influence in any Shjips mix. However, the band digs far deeper for inspiration: The "j" was put in Shjips to give the name a Swedish flavor, a nod to Trad, Gras & Stenar, an obscure jam band from Sweden.
Shjips is well steeped in the San Francisco-brewed blend of experimental psych so rampant in clubs like Hemlock Tavern and festivals like On Land, the ambient/drone community's reply each year to Outside Lands. Influences worn on its sleeve aside, San Francisco's Shjips knows how to maintain a layman's interest in its spaced-out exploits. There is a cohesion to the mix that keeps "West" from sailing off toward the meridian line -- or Jupiter. On "West," the band's third album, Johnson demonstrates a keen ear for rhythm despite his noise-rock affectations, and when that fails, organist Nash Whalen has the fortitude to rein in the hammering wall of feedback.
Backmasking is used to great effect on the turbulent, fog-wrapped closer, "Rising," a tidal wave of sound that builds and builds -- Johnson sounding as if he's chanting in Latin with his voice in reverse, giving the dirge a spiritual heft. It's a good way to bring this piercing meditation to a close.