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Wooden Shjips stand at the forefront of modern psychedelic rock and present their first album for Thrill Jockey.
West is the first Wooden Shjips album recorded in a proper studio. Production was handled by Phil Manley (Trans Am) at his Lucky Cat Studios.West marks the first time the band recorded in a proper studio, as well as the first time with an engineer (Phil Manley). All previous recordings, either self-released, for Holy Mountain, or Mexican Summer were done more piecemeal in the band s rehearsal studio. West was recorded and mixed in six days at Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco. It was mastered by Sonic Boom at Blanker Unisinn, Brooklyn, with additional mastering by Heba Kadry at The Lodge in New York.
California's Bay Area has latterly reinvigorated its late-60s heritage as Mecca for exploratory psychedelic rock, with free-jamming nutjobs such as Sun Araw and Carlton Melton once more turning on, tuning in, but most importantly dropping the kind of far-out and mind-expanding recordings no-one could rightly claim to have heard before.
San Francisco's Wooden Shjips have made more headway on this side of the Atlantic than most, with a slightly more conventional, even earthbound variant. It combines The Seeds' garage caveman thud, krautrock's locked-groove hypnosis and, most obviously to Brit ears, Spacemen 3's ethereally-voiced pulsations.
This third album was even mastered (though not produced) by former Spaceman, Sonic Boom; yet, ironically, it's their first record really to transcend that influence. West, unlike its predecessors, was beamed out from a bona-fide studio, not their dingy old rehearsal room. Thus, their familiar smoke-filled basement gloom lifts, and here finally is a psychedelic audio experience with sufficient focus and momentum to 'take you there' without dozing off on the job.
Black Smoke Rise opens at a reasonable clip, with an amps-at-11 fuzz-riff, swirly 60s organ, circling-down-the-plughole bass patterns and catchy lysergic invocations from mainman Erik 'Ripley' Johnson, before Kraftwerk synth expanses and Johnson's FX-mangled solo lead out further into the stratosphere.
In advance publicity, Johnson, a silver-bearded New Yorker-by-birth, has revealed that West is loosely themed around California's wide-open spaces, where the combo regularly camp out, to perceive their cosmic tininess. Crossing, mirroring the cover's gaping snap of Golden Gate Bridge, is a desert inner-space trip - like The Doors' Take Me to the Other Side, minus Jim Morrison's brutish ego.
However, where Wooden Shjips really start to break new turf here is on Lazy Bones, which, contrary to its title, rattles along fast on a maraca-rustlin' Bo Diddley beat - proper, urban rock'n'roll! Hell, it even clocks in at under four minutes. Later on, Looking Out is similarly hi-octane, with a harp-blowin' intro and Johnson squawking semi-audibly, like a transported Alan Vega.
Thanks to those two pile-drivers keeping the energy levels up, Johnson's lengthy slow-mo fret-fiddling in the outlying tracks feels loose and liberated, rather than slack and repetitive. Unexpectedly, these star-sailors are tripping the light, fantastically.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
I discovered Wooden Shjips by chance this year and have acquired their previous four CD album releases so I was looking forward to listening to 'West'. Having listened to it I'm pleased to say it has exceeded expectations; in fact I'd say this is their best so far. Why? More of the same but even better. How many times have you wished bands you liked had remained playing the same stuff? You know all those 'I like their early stuff' kind of bands you once liked. No fear of that with Wooden Shjips. Nothing wrong with change but when a formula works so well why change it?
If you have never heard Wooden Shjips and have a taste for hypnotic repetitive fuzz drone riffs or you like bands like Hawkwind, Loop, Spacemen 3 (Sonic Boom helped master 'West'), early Stereolab ('I like their early stuff...'), Suicide and Neu! then do yourself a big favour and get hold of 'West. Trust me, Wooden Shjips understand this kind of music like very few bands do. You don't get a band like this come along very often. A classic band of it's type.
Proud enough of his adopted Bay Area to emblazon the album cover with the Golden Gate Bridge, West is then, at its heart, business as usual for this collection of power-psyche pioneers. Muscular repeats and heavy cosmic grooves dominate, which, along with a fuzzed-up guitar riff and stratospheric 60s organ help lend the catchy opener "Black Smoke Rising" an outer-rings dance-floor vibe.
Added to the usual Wooden Shjips palette however we find identifiably classic rock anchors. By way of example, "Home", outside of its vocal, brings to mind Suicide thumbing through AC/DC sheet music. In turn, the patient "Flight" houses a low-in-the-mix riff ripped from the Sabbath catalogue. Decorating each sonic storm without exception, intergalactic guitar work more than makes itself known, beaming directly into the mind's third eye.
As if it were needed, acting to prove the current confidence in the Wooden Shjips camp, West's closer, "Rising", even has the balls to run entirely in reverse, clipping Johnson's vocal unintelligibly as a result. Its drums work back-to-front. That iconic fuzzy drone maintains its pitch.
It would seem mainlined psyche this single-minded works when taken from any direction: North, South, East or West.
Advised downloads: "Black Smoke Rising" and "Lazy Bones
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I played this several times the other day and was totally captivated.
I was totally drawn into the motorik psychedelic swirl of the Wooden Shjips!. Read more
brand new to me and so pleased to meet them. they've plugged the hole left by loop. all that's left is to agree with the other reviews. Read morePublished on 27 Mar. 2012 by gregovcov