Wooden Shjips — West

written by: September 21, 2011
Release Date: September 13, 2011


If you own a guitar and casually like to play it with the distortion turned way up, giving your ears that nice bit of music bleed, then it would be wise to pack up the Orange Tiny Terror and move to San Francisco. It might seem there’s a happenin’ scene in St. Paul or Cleveland or even Savannah, but with guys such as Ty Segall, The Fresh & Onlys, or even the overhyped Girls, San Francisco is outpacing everyone in the fuzz department. On the crest of this burgeoning wave ride is Wooden Shjips, a practically ancient psych-rock outfit whose third album, West, comes about at just the right time to break them a bit bigger than their previous efforts have afforded, all based on the massive expansion of their scene. And while West easily is the group’s best effort to date, it has the distinct air of jammy overstuffing, like an EP stretched out over too many songs.

But at seven songs and 37 minutes, it’s hard to call West anything but an EP. The tracks might be groovy, dynamic-less numbers, but they’re exactly what would come out of a scene so steeped in retro it can’t get out of its own garage. Less attuned ears would put Shjips closer to The Doors than not, but the real travesty would be missing the influence of Roky Erickson and his seminal psychedelia outfit The 13th Floor Elevators. Grizzly opener “Black Smoke Rise” does have that Jim Morrison organ work, but the constant rolling drum/bass/guitar chug is as early psych as it gets.

Wooden Shjips also don’t subscribe to Morrison’s faux-poetry; the goings on here are purely dreamscape impressions, great images signifying nothing.

Mid-tempo “Crossing” wisely incorporates the tambourine, and by the end of the second track, it feels as though Wooden Shjips have settled into a hazy rhythm in the brain. It’s a shame, then, that the rest of the album never really lives up to the openers. “Lazy Bones,” with its ting-ting hi-hats sounds like a psych-punk riffer, but it never gets the melody quite right. “Home” mirrors the opening track in almost every way, so much so that by the end of the fourth track, you’re wondering whether Wooden Shjips are anything more than a flash in the pan. Luckily, confident solo show “Flight” saves the affair with an impression of perhaps Wooden Shjips’ best contemporary cousin: Spiritualized, circa Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. The space-rock lightness abounds enough in “Flight” to lift West’s heaviness a morsel. Pop song stand-in “Looking Out” maintains the lightness, only to have closer “Rising” muck up the ascendance. By the end of even the first few repeat listens, Wooden Shjips’ appeal is encased in stone, another good byproduct of an exploding scene, even one that can claim old-guy cred. But with the mass of better records out this year from the same area, and in much the same genre, West might be doomed to be another niche cut in San Francisco’s newest big break.

Wooden Shjips – West Tracklist:

  1. “Black Smoke Rise”
  2. “Crossing”
  3. “Lazy Bones”
  4. “Home”
  5. “Flight”
  6. “Looking Out”
  7. “Rising”