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Wooden Shjips - West LP
Thrill Jockey Records
After two albums and ten EPS, singles, etc., it's fair to ask if we really need another Wooden Shjips record. The short answer is yes. Bandleader/guitarist Ripley Johnson and his mates have used the D.I.Y. approach for everything Wooden Shjips has released -- until now. On their Thrill Jockey debut, engineer Phil Manley (who handled the recording and mixing chores for Johnson's side project Moon Duo's latest album Mazes) was brought in, making this the first WS record to be cut in a proper studio. Mastering was farmed out to Sonic Boom and Heba Kadry. The end result is the most expansive album WS has issued, and despite the addition of outside mechanical personnel, it is still full of the fuzzed-out, murky, and distorted excesses that are the band's trademarks. Opening track "Black Smoke Rise" and "Crossing," which follows it, are big, nasty, rockist trance inducers. The San Francisco psychedelia that Johnson claims as his biggest influence takes a back seat to both the MC5 and Loop. That said, his long, spiraling, intricate lead guitar recalls Quicksilver Messenger Service's snaky, aggressive axeman John Cippolina. Both tracks are squalling, sprawling exercises, as Nash Whalen's spacy Farfisa and Dusty Jermier's throbbing bassline underscore Johnson's guitar and monotone vocals (surprisingly atop the mix this time out). "Lazy Bones," led by Jermier's bass and Omar Ahsanuddin's monotonously precise drums, find Johnson employing a rootsy, psychobilly-blues guitar tinge in a new, fractured take on Wooden Shjips' sound world. Album hinge piece "Home" (while sounding like a much faster Crazy Horse) allows Johnson to fully indulge his Cippolina obsession. "Flight"'s intro comes across like Black Sabbath playing Loop, but the swirling organ pushes things further afield. Johnson only needs to plod along vocally and instrumentally with a two-chord chorus to break the tripped-out gloom. "Looking Out," with its machine-like drums and propulsive organ driving Johnson's trembling vocals (re: Alan Vega) is weirder, more haunted, darker, dreadful: psychedelic psychobilly.The final cut, "Rising," is recorded completely backwards, as if to say there is nothing left to say in a linear fashion -- though it works out to be another dancing zombie rhythm-and-drone exercise. With West, WS plays post-history psychedelia; it is as necessary -- and freaky -- as anything from the eras that influenced it.