Having raved more than once on this blog about Wooden Shjips’ Ripley Johnson’s side-project Moon Duo, the forthcoming release of a new Wooden Shjips LP is actually a chance for me to get acquainted with, so to speak, the main event because I’ve been aware for quite some time that they’re a band that I should know about – and that if I knew about them properly I’d love them – but despite being quite passionate here on the subject of Moon Duo I’ve not graduated, or side-stepped perhaps, to Wooden Shjips themselves. Colour me converted.
From their website, then, I glean that they commenced in 2006, based then in San Francisco though now relocated to Oregon, cut a few records, one in 10” and the others in 7” format on lovely collectable coloured vinyls, then promptly imploded, leading to the Wooden Shjips that have recorded and toured since and who cut the album West, their first proper record label release (via Thrill Jockey, as indeed is Back To Land) a couple of years back.
No surprises, Back To Land has much in common with the Moon Duo records that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years, driving, melodically robust, fuzz and distortion-laden progressions that wind their way through inner-space with vocals which seep into the background in a way that suggest they complete the vividness of the Wooden Shjips picture without being specifically important in their words, while being vital in the way they mesh into the overall sound. What Wooden Shjips commit to is a miasma of thrusting rhythms that by twists and turns are thrilling expansive and yet at times seem laid-back, almost languid, as though they’ve dropped in, dropped out and spaced out while still maintaining at their core a rocket-propelled sense of purpose and urgency, a contradictory and valedictory fusion. No track too short to engage and develop, no tune too elongated to outstay its welcome, outwardly exploratory in wide boundaries, but bounded indeed by a sharp sense of time. Hawkwind played by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Wooden Shjips have a danceable groove that’s a hypnotic playground for the senses, a liberating vibe and a good vibration. They lean on minimalist as a description, which I don’t really get unless they’re telling us that each track is based around a simple theme that’s expanded and experimented on in the song’s journey, in which case I’ll turn on a sixpence and say that minimalist really hits the nail squarely on the head. In any case, all cranked-up to the maximum in the propulsion of their sound and vision they’ve certainly cranked-up the spirit and senses of this reviewer.
Here’s a snatch of them in acoustic mode, playing ‘These Shadows’ from Back To Land in quite a different manner than you’ll here it on this terrific record.