Wooden Shjips - Back to Land

It’s more reasoned and more fluid, but ‘Back to Land’ simply doesn’t pack the same punches.

Label: Thrill Jockey

Rating:

If Hollywood has taught the world anything it’s that each remote American town has one impeccable but effortless individual who chews toothpicks and drives a Dodge Challenger. It’s a lesson well learnt by Wooden Shjips who’ve written the perfect album for that guy, with ‘Back to Land’. It’s endless, sun-kissed and metallic, it’s the soundtrack to hazy monotonous desert roads.

There’s an atmosphere heavy enough to suffocate, with the depths of psych leading to complete immersion, a total dreamlike state. The vocals are soothing but pass all too easily. Like a story told in a bar, words are missed and the listener left to piece together whatever it was that said. Hypnotically the album starts with the hazy call of ‘Back to Land’ an elongated and repetitive drone with just enough definition to serve as something of a shadowy introduction. The next seven songs are tweaks of a formula that takes droning riffs, meandering organs and woozy vocals in all directions forwards in a sun-dazed stagger. ‘Ruins’ is hectic and frantic, apart from a soothing retro lead guitar line running through it like a string through a labyrinth, while ‘Ghouls’ dips and dives with an insistent riff and 50s sci-fi organ. Some elements last just long enough to be called masterfully in and out of action, while other parts just do last too long. As Wooden Shjips have added space and scale to their arsenal they’ve swapped out the claustrophobic intensity that made some of their previous songs like ‘Lazy Bones’ so engaging. It’s more reasoned and more fluid, but ‘Back to Land’ simply doesn’t pack the same punches, each song made of sharp parts but blunted in their structure. ‘Other Stars’ and ‘Servants are promising hopes as the album fades away, each burning brighter than the previous selection.

‘Back To Land’ doesn’t do enough to grab attention. It’s satisfying and completely listenable, bar for the weight of repetition, but all too often lacks definition and most importantly purpose. It represents a very human, dream-like psychedelia being pushed to breaking point through mass-production level repetition. While one desert-road drive is an iconic dash for freedom through a limitless expanse another is a featureless, barren, energy-sapping trip through an unwelcoming landscape; ‘Back to Land’ exists somewhere at the crossroads between those two. Undoubtedly there’s riches to be found here but the treasure map is harder to follow than ever.