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Wooden Shjips - West

Inexhaustible, experimental sound that can lead you anywhere and everywhere all at once.

If you ever wanted to experience the musical equivalent of both the exhilaration and extreme vexation of driving an automobile in California, ‘West’, the new album by San Franciscan psych-rockers Wooden Shjips, certainly has you covered. There are plenty of high-octane, crunchy guitar riffs found on the record to make you want to step on the gas, put the top down and let the cool ocean breeze blow through your hair. But there are also plenty of frustrating points of stagnation within these songs, where they ultimately linger far too long in one place to hold your attention, leaving the listener feeling trapped on a winding road that they can’t get off of anytime soon. But thankfully, the tedious, sluggish moments are few and far between on ‘West’, as these drone-laden, garage-rock numbers feature far more dynamic bursts of sonic adrenaline than wayward moments of musical gridlock.

The album storms out of the gate with the fuzzed-out bliss of ‘Black Smoke Rise,’ a swinging, stomping number straight out of the gritty haze of the darker corners of Haight-Ashbury. Frontman Ripley Johnson’s hypnotic guitar grooves colour the entire record, leading the songs fitfully to their jumping off point and beyond, as Nash Whalen’s ominous organ and the steady rhythm section of drummer Omar Ahsanuddin and bassist Dusty Jermier dutifully keep time behind Johnson’s adventurous, expansive riffs. After such an explosive start, the band slows things down just a bit on ‘Crossing,’ an exploratory, bewitching number which echoes the Southern swagger of the Black Angels in the process. The band self-produced their first two full-lengths, but wisely brought in an outside producer for the first time on West (their Thrill Jockey debut). And Phil Manley (of Trans Am fame) does a great job balancing the group’s knack for unrestrained, reverb-drenched anthems with a focus and urgency that wasn’t quite present on their previous, slightly scattershot efforts.

These new songs are all vast, sweeping numbers that have plenty of space through which the listener’s mind will surely wander, as Johnson takes you along on his own distinctive sonic trip. You don’t necessarily arrive anywhere in particular at the end of it all, but you certainly go on a journey, one often filled with fuzzed-out detours and shadowy smoke clouds everywhere. Most of those tonal diversions work, however some simply lead you down an all-too-familiar path. ‘Lazy Bones’ suffers from sounding a bit too much like Wolfmother for anyone’s good, while the directionless dirge of ‘Looking Out’ and the backwards-tracked experiment of ‘Rising’ close out the record with a couple glaring missteps.

But the heart of the record pulses with an originality and inventiveness that ultimately buoys the entire work, as the bluesy bluster of ‘Home,’ and the smooth, stinging cadence of ‘Flight’ both effectively offset the album’s relatively weak finish. ‘Flight’ especially lets you get blissfully lost within the boundless, magnetic soundscape the band expertly creates, as they ride the enthralling rhythms as far as they can possibly go. That number (as well as the two excellent tracks that kick-off the record) really represents the best of what Wooden Shjips have to offer, for when they are hitting on all cylinders, this untamed quartet creates an inexhaustible, experimental sound that can lead you anywhere and everywhere all at once.

Tags: Wooden Shjips, Reviews, Album Reviews

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