(Thrill Jockey, 2011)
Wooden Shjips sound like West Coast psych rock. But they’re from the East Coast. The end.
Oh, but that won’t do. That won’t do at all. See, I’ve got to churn out somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 words (minimum!) about Wooden Shjips and their 2011 release West or that son of a bitch Chris Ivey is going cut my admin privileges on the WordPress site. I won’t be able to post any more “On Shuffle” columns. (We haven’t had one in a while, but that doesn’t mean we won’t in the future!) I think that Mythmaking Etc has gone to his head. He’s been next to impossible to deal with ever since he decided that talking was better than typing. Podcast. Pft.
(Maybe I should end it by repeating “Screw Flanders” over and over. Is that even cool to reference anymore?)
So you’ve got these guys from New York, led by founding member Ripley Johnson, who really like their woozy, dripping psych rock spiked with the repetitive momentum of krautrock. It’s pretty dank stuff, danker than the nuggets everybody’s clearly smokin’.
…You know what – this is a sham. Maybe my initial couple sentences suffice for a record like West. I don’t mean this as a slight, but there’s not a whole lot to say about this. It’s good – really good for what it’s worth. But once you get past the heavy guitar, the rambunctious organ, the driving rhythms, and the heroin-haze vocals, that’s what you have – all those things. You play spot-the-similarities at this point. You come up with The Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, Suicide, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, etc. Do you even have to dig any deeper? You know what all that is. Pretend you don’t need me to write it for you.
This isn’t the first time I dug in to West – I’d written a blurb for the album for a music licensing company I moonlight for. I gotta tell you, I think reproducing it here in its entirety will suffice. Don’t worry, it’s just a long paragraph. Easy.
“West is Wooden Shjips love letter to the American West, as the record’s title not-so-subtly suggests. The cover, an overhead shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, immediately whisks you to the streets of San Francisco of the 1960s – but Ripley Johnson and his mangy East Coast cohorts aim to carpet bomb Haight-Ashbury rather than embrace its glazed Technicolor malaise. Indebted more to 1960s and 1970s psych and garage by way of The Velvet Underground, The Shjips ride minimal dense grooves over which swirling organ and thick guitar melodies collapse upon themselves and supernova into the expanse like white dwarf stars. “Black Smoke Rise” billows ominously on a krautrock rhythm, enveloping all within earshot in a drugsick haze. “Crossing” lays on thick the tambourine and maracas as an added bonus to the far-out tribal flavor, and somewhere ex-Brian Jonestown Massacre hand-percussionist/sideburn enthusiast Joel Gion is either drooling or jealous. Probably both. In fact, if you’re preparing to listen to West, mutton chops are a mandatory accessory. But no matter what, Wooden Shjips, obtuse “j” and all, blaze across America under a freak flag of mystery, and this record is the key to your transcendence. Tune in, tie one on, and trance out.”
See? That wasn’t so hard. No Grateful Dead bashing (even though I want to so bad). No thinly apologetic essay on why it’s OK to like Wooden Shjips but not other unwashed ’heads with similar but jammier tendencies. No freaky love-in quips. I only made one pot reference, but not any acid ones. No Barry Bonds steroid-embiggened-cap-size cracks. I had considered making some sort of Alcatraz-the-jail and Alcatraz-the-show connection – you know, San Francisco – since I was trying to write this before and after watching this week’s episode (I’m getting a little more into it after show number 5), but there was nothing there. You’re probably all the better for that.
Take this, then, from this hideously uninspired review: If you like thick, hazy waves of guitar and organ, you’ll like Wooden Shjips. Cue RIYL. And screw Flanders.
RIYL: The Velvet Underground, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Suicide, A Place to Bury Strangers, Soft Machine, Spacemen 3
WOODEN SHJIPS LIVE PERFORMANCE ON KEXP