We’re in such an age of doing it yourself, with all these douche bags doing things like giving advice over Facebook on how to be creative, or successful in the creative arts, and publishing pictures of themselves on the john for their album cover or whatever just trying to stand out in any way, that sometimes it’s nice to hear some people who are just like objectively BETTER than you at something, no gimmick required.
Somehow over the years for me San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips sort of got lost among the shuffle of indie bands… I think I remember seeing them posted one time on Coke Machine Glow (the now-defunct… 2015 killed ’em off understandably enough), but my brain was a cup that overfloweth and I just didn’t get around to ’em. Anyway, on V. they sound adamantly comfortable in their element, content to nestle into an hypnotic groove but still productive of creative flair very readily and prevalently.
Six-minute opener “Eclipse” will call to mind Black Mountain with the punk spirit of L.A.’s The Entrance Band, galvanizing little phrasing unorthodoxies at innovative spots, but riding all the time swathes and swathes of reverb, much like their Bay Area brethren Black Rebel Motorcycle Club might do. Singer Erik “Ripley” Johnson, also fronting and axing on the excellent Moon Duo in his spare time, has a requisite coyness in his delivery to really sew this project up as celestial and “cool,” for lack of a better term, like if the Black Angels’ Alex Maas had the restraint of Jim James.
As far as comparisons to My Morning Jacket go in general here, ok, they’re viable — the Shjips veering toward the post-punk, then, and “groove”-oriented, as opposed to the folky or ethereal. But each band sort of sounds like it has the spirit of the other in it, under the same cultural canvas to successfully push forward the sum total of American roots rock.
“Red Line” comes in poppier, with a shorter intro and briefer musical phrases, so that it’s bulwarked creatively by tripped-out, muffled vocals as well as a curious gaggle of noises among which I think I heard both sitar and decidedly slow-building backwards hats, balancing the track out perfectly. A guitar/sitar duo then briefly crashes in following the first chorus, to then give way again to that bass/funky groove, as if a timely convergence of vanguard American music from the 1960s and the 1970s has just taken place, the real feather in its cap of course being the easy naturalness and stately sureness with which it’s ballooned forth.
It sounds stupid to even say at this point, but I just thought that for the sake of accountability I’d compare my comments here with my last review, on Maps & Atlases. With the latter we have, what sounds like to me, a band actually he** bent on making a radio HIT. They have ceased a belief in indie rock, in other words, giving full way to the cavalcade of Friday’s/Applebee’s fast-food culture pervading America, arguably, appropriately enough, east of the Mississippi River. Wooden Shjips on their fifth album here, on the other hand, are EXPANSIVE while still being virile, taking roughly the rudimentary approach of a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club/Modest Mouse blueprint (the convergence of reverb-heavy garage rock and white-boy funk) and christening it with little benchmarks of creativity all along the way, as if deaf to ears of convention but still channeling electrically the whole rock and roll cannon for us to enjoy. “Already Gone,” appropriately enough, falls into deliberate, riffy classic rock territory, allowing Omar Ahsannudin to shine on some prominent maraca play, harking back to when bands and the world still believed in rock and roll without the looming “warden” presence of a nagging producer or record label guru. Most importantly, ever sound on “Already Gone” seems to morph and wiggle right before our very ears, V. then undeniably the work of a seasoned sonic craftsman with attention to minute detail and a brain for making V. always a fun journey.