San Francisco psych-rockers plug in, they set the controls for the pineal of
the sun, and shift into interstellar overdrive in their ongoing quest to prove
Professor Reed’s theory that electricity comes from other planets. In deference
to those not familiar with the band, they are the dark, murky, musical cousins
of the Black Angels. Their latest, West, is notably
more opiated and trance-y, closer to Spacemen 3 throughout, think;
“Content” and “I Hear the Vibrations” from the Shjips’s Volume 2 album. Perhaps the fact the album was mastered by Sonic
Boom himself plays a bit into that, plus the extra polish it has sound-wise by
actually being recorded in a real recording studio with a real producer.
Previous EP’s and albums have been strictly DIY projects at a home studio.
Smoke Rise’ kicks the album off with a solid, thrumming beat and the
illustrious organ keyboarding of Nash Whalen, an integral part of the bands’
cerebral grooviness. The second tune, “Crossing” gets about as close to
Spacemen 3 territory as it can, without being a cover of theirs. Billowing
reverb spills forth throughout, and Ripley Johnson’s vocal’s are couched in
echo and exude a sinister danger like Morrison’s in “The End,” and his guitar
slithers and writhes bluesy coils that both embrace and constrict you. “Lazy
Bones” is anything but, with a driving beat that, along with “Looking Out,”
outpaces everything else on the album, with the latter sounding the most like a
Black Angels song than anything herein. Deep, fuzz-buzzy bass lines and
Farfisa-like organ lead off “Flight,” another song that induces weird scenes
from inside the gold mine, by way of Johnson’s intonations again, and a later
organ riff that invokes some “Light My Fire” noodling by way of Manzarek. About
halfway through, Johnson’s guitar jumps in and intertwines around the bass and
organ, making for a hallucinatory jam, clear to the actual end. The final song,
“Rising,” pulses and throbs and seems to sync with your brain waves in a
hypnotic way. Not an unpleasant effect.
West offers seven songs and goes on for 38 minutes, about par for one of
their albums or EP’s. Besides embracing improved recording and production, the
album stands out in their catalog for containing a strong roster of outstanding
songs, not a 98-pound weakling in the bunch. The Wooden Shjips are the real
deal, and West gets about as good, and as far out, as it gets.
DOWNLOAD: “Black Smoke Rise,” “Looking Out,” “Lazy
Bones” BARRY ST. VITUS
Please tune in to issue #11 of BLURT-the
magazine, due this fall, in which we profile the mighty Wooden Shjips.