Sound — 9
Wooden Shjips (yes, that is how you spell it) are a San Francisco-based four-piece playing their own unique type of music which blends psychedelia, drone and shoegaze. If you want to know exactly what this sounds like, the first 8 minutes of Wooden Shjips Volume I, a reissued collection of long-deleted singles and B-sides, should give you a pretty good idea. Opening track Shrinking Moon For You revolves around a one-chord groove with thrashing power chords, a crunchy Hammond organ riff and a metronomic rhythm section - the bassist and drummer lock into a groove at the start of the song then stick religiously to it for 8 minutes - topped by wailing, effected lead guitar and echoing shamanic vocals. This continues throughout the half-hourish duration of the album. Singer/guitarist Erik 'Ripley' Hudson and keyboard player Nash Whelan produce a dizzying maelstrom of sound over minimalistic basslines and ghostly 'are-they-there-or-not' drums - each beat is low in the mix and consists purely of bass drum and snare, with the odd bit of tambourine/sleigh bells thrown in. The spaciness is further added to by Ripley's sleazy Jim Morrison-esque voice occasionally making an appearance between guitar solos. As a guitarist he plays like Hendrix on Mogadon - bluesy pentatonic licks played through a dimed Marshall stack, drenched in delay and reverb.
Lyrics — 8
Ripley's vocals are not a central element of the music, featuring quite sparsely and always being so effected that you can't understand what he's on about most of the time. However, as a Sigur Ros-style 'vocals as another instrument as a singer' he is extremely effective, from the haunting, almost-spoken vocals backed by a huge, lumbering groove on Clouds Over Earthquake, to alternating between distorted cries and rallying shouts on SOL '07.
Overall Impression — 9
Sounding like some bizarre collaboration between My Bloody Valentine and The Velvet Underground, Wooden Shjips Volume I shouldn't work but it does. There's a few dud tracks - Space Clothes is little more than a collage of weird noises and processed speech samples and Dance, California is a gesture masquerading as a song - but the album is bookended by two absolute stunners in the form of Shrinking Moon For You and the 11-minute drone-rock symphony SOL '07. A bit like Pink Floyd's Meddle, with openers and closers this good the bit in the middle becomes almost irrelevant. The band have created something unusual which is experimental music that's actually listenable. It's too laid-back to be intrusive as background music at a party, and men of A Certain Age will either love the guitar playing or have a serious acid flashback. The band's self-titled debut album saw them keep the one-chord grooves but move away from droning keyboards to a more Doors-esque West Coast vibe, and recent new album Dos brings the two styles together. But, if you want to hear the finest work from one of the most innovative bands around today you need Volume I.