Friday, November 22, 2013

Wooden Shjips Race Back To Land

Wooden Shjips
Psychedelic space rock aficionados Wooden Shjips continue their inward slide on their fourth full-length with Back To Land, delivering nine dizzying drifts into a perpetual state of fuzz-encrusted lushness. Even more so than previous albums, the band has minimized the sound even further.

It's also the first album that the band has conceived outside of the Bay area, with Ripley Johnson and Omar Ahsanuddin soaking up Oregon for inspiration. They've both said location played a major influence, with the music taking on a more earthy and grounded sound than anything created in San Francisco.

For most, the change up will best be summed up as subtle. They haven't abandoned their psych-rock core as much as they've changed up some of the instruments, with an acoustic guitar being the most obvious. The results are slightly less brooding tracks that feel brighter to the point of psych pop.

Back To Land builds upon the confidence of Wooden Shjips. 

The title track, Back To Land, sets down something to expect from Wooden Shjips. They skip song structure by sticking with a single groove, something that floats along as Johnson's intelligent lyrics and haunting vocals take hold. The video that accompanies it underscores the spookiness.

Without the clowns, Back To Land has a warmer glow. But even with their teeth gleaming, it's easy enough to hear that this album was meant to be more immersive than previous outings. The decision to lay it down to tape with Kendra Lynn and Larry Crane only adds warmth to the mystique.

The second track to give a listen to is Ruins. The weight of its interlocking organ and guitar groove plods and pulsates along over a spaciously repetitive percussion and bass. The solos tucked inside are especially adept at creating a hazy rhythm-induced sway.

Arguably the best track on the album is These Shadows, a richly sedative and relaxed number that contemplates the day that preceded dusk. It feels like an ending, even it's a brief respite before the complete and total transition to night. The only track better is an acoustic version that Wooden Shjips includes on the deluxe album. The strum becomes more pronounced. The vocals have more reverb.

Other standouts include the effortlessly compelling guitar solos of Servants, the energy of the offbeat and upbeat Ghouls, and the wooziness induced by Everybody Knows. Like all of the tracks on Back To Land, the tone is textural with distorted riffs, modal keys and that steady, ever-present percussion.

Most of the tracks don't even reach crescendos as the band just lets them fade out into space, without much of an end. It's very much like the environment where they composed most of it — with old forests, winding streams, and the unchanging and near timeless coastlines. They roll on too.

You can hear it in the music so readily because Back To Land is the most laid back album of the band's career. And in some ways, it's almost as if the band has become more reflective, taking cues from the music they listened to before they ever conceived this would be their band.

Back To Land By Wooden Shjips Sails 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Back to Land was recorded over an 11-day session and their label describes it as some of the most detailed and spacious recordings of their career. It's nuanced, varied, and easy enough to be sucked into for a spell as opposed to a casual listen.

You can find Back To Land by Wooden Shjips on Amazon. The album is also available at Barnes & Noble or can be downloaded from iTunes. The deluxe album is the one to look for as it includes the acoustic version of These Shadows. The band will be touring in the United States and Europe through February 2014. December is especially heavy with shows throughout Europe before they head to the United Kingdom.
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