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Wooden Shjips – West

on September 12, 2011, 7:58am

Wooden Shjips aren’t exactly revivalists, but they’re a band to show your dad when he makes that despicable “rock is dead“ claim. In the San Francisco psych rockers’ sound, you can hear traces of Spacemen 3, Hawkwind, and even The Doors. That retro sensibility is one of the Shjips’ greatest assets, but it has an inherent defect: The band sometimes appear to believe that it’s OK to recycle and recycle without developing anything new. This has led to some great moments (“Losin’ Time” and “Shrinking Moon for You”) but also to some boring, overlong jamming.

Fortunately, West, Wooden Shjips’ third proper full-length, hits on the band’s distinct sound while evading the flaws of their messier previous output. It’s purportedly based around the mythology of the American West, but that concept becomes irrelevant as soon as frontman Ripley Johnson gets on the mic. He sings in a tired, Alan Vega-style monotone, making it nearly impossible to make out the lyrics (though, his vocals here are actually less obscured than usual).

Each of the seven songs here follow a tight formula, the same one that the band’s been using for years: Fuzz-doused rhythm guitar riffs are played again and again, the vocals are a minor texture as opposed to a focal point, and subtle guitar and keyboard licks seep in when things start to get stagnant. Throughout West’s 38 minutes, it’s clear that the Shjips are really starting to get their sound down pat.

There are no caprices here, but “Black Smoke Rise”, “Home”, and “Flight” are slyly conspicuous highlights, devoid of much contrast but bursting with intense grooves. All told, West might repel listeners with short attention spans, but with a bit of patience, its coherence pummels any monotony.

Essential Tracks: “Black Smoke Rise”, “Home”, and “Flight”

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