Wooden Shjips – Dos (Holy Mountain) Keith Boyd 5.11.09
Whenever a band releases a new album music critics wet all over themselves looking for signs that the artist has “progressed”. In countless reviews I’ve read the phrase “treading water” to negatively denote a band staying within a certain signature sound. I guess I get it. Mining a known quantity can be a sign of artistic stagnation and the results can often times sound boring. On the other hand constantly seeking out the new can end up with music that is rootless, shallow and equally lacking in flair. I suppose the heart of the matter comes back to the artist/band in question. The trick to making it work is a balancing act. Just as many great visual artists can be identified by a brushstroke or their use of light the key is to have a unique set of skills but use them in a variety of ways. This need that critics have for constant novelty is a bit of a sickness really and it falls apart completely when a band finds a deep sonic wellspring to explore. Such is the case with Wooden Shjips and their excellent new album, ‘Dos’.
Hailing from San Francisco, Wooden Shjips are a quartet heavily influenced by the transcendent experimentalism of psychedelia, the microtonal/drone explorations of minimalism, and the “Psychotic Reactions” of garage rock. Although they started out as an avant-garde exercise in rhythm and tonality the current roster brings a more structured rock approach to its music, utilizing a lineup of drums (Omar Ahsanuddin), bass (Dusty Jermier), organ (Nash Whalen), guitar (Erik Ripley Johnson), and vocals. This is not to imply that they make anything like the “Rock” one hears on radio or American Idol. Wooden Shjips have been compared to The Doors, The Gun Club and at times Echo and The Bunnymen. I can go with all of these comparisons but you’d have to add into the mix a barrel of LSD-25 and then make room for a tight yet elastic repetition that springs forth from the curls of La Monte Young’s beard and is blessed with the gossamer tendrils of Terry Riley’s best work. ‘Dos’ is their second full album release and it instantly latches onto the dopamine receptors in your brain and starts humming.
Channeling bits and pieces of Neu! and Loop this record is, if possible, an even groovier iteration of their whipped up fuzz licks. 'Motorbike' starts things off with an attack of bleeding organ and cicada chirps that sound as though they are being flash frozen in deep space. It’s a uniquely frenzied start that conjures up the dancers at Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable parties. 'For So Long' is another bass driven head nodder. What’s surprising about this album in general is that despite how weird it sounds it’s incredibly danceable. I can see Wooden Shjips kicking up a ruckus any of the 1960’s SF clubs while amoeba lights pulsed around them and the Merry Pranksters frugged the night away.
Although it clocks in at a mere 38 minutes every one of them is packed with great music. The playing and production are both excellent. A mid-range wall of hairy buzz tumbles out of the speakers (especially on ‘Aquarian Time’) and this comfortable tonality is then driven down the autobahn by a propulsive “Ralf and Florian” rhythm. Don’t come looking for huge amounts of variety from Wooden Shjips. If you adjust your sensibilities a touch you’ll find that there is great pleasure to be found within the throbbing repetition.