WOODEN SHJIPS – ” The Albums “

Posted: May 21, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , ,
Wooden Shjips Brudenell Social Club Sept 11th

A handful of bands loosely based in and around the city of San Francisco have taken the free experimental spirit of ’60s bands such as the 13th Floor Elevators, United States of America, the Velvet Underground, Silver Apples, and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and filtered their sound through the motorik shuffle of krautrock and the discordance of obscure minimalist composers. Whilst referencing some classic ‘60s and ‘70s psych/kraut and experimental bands, Their sound seems equally informed by a more ‘80s aesthetic of taking these influences and spinning them (I’m thinking Loop, Spacemen 3, Scientists etc here). 

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Wooden Shjips, a quartet from San Francisco heavily influenced by the experimentalism of psychedelia, classical minimalism, and garage rock excess, started as an experiment in rhythmic primitivism and group improvisation. The current roster brings a more structured rock approach to its performances, utilizing a traditional line-up of drums (Omar Ahsanuddin), bass (Dusty Jermier), organ (Nash Whalen), guitar (Erik “Ripley” Johnson), and vocals. The band released two acclaimed records in 2006, beginning early in the year with a self-released 10-inch, “Shrinking Moon for You“. The record quickly sold out, after capturing the attention of well-regarded tastemakers, such as Tom Lax and Byron Coley, who penned rave reviews on Siltblog, and in Wire magazine, respectively. A 7-inch followed on the Sick Thirst label, and received similar praise from music bloggers, as well as from veteran scribe David Fricke in Rolling Stone. The band has three 2007 releases planned: this LP/CD for Holy Mountain, a 7-inch for Sub Pop, and a 7-inch for Pollymaggoo Records. They recently played NoisePop 2007 with Roky Erickson, as well as a showcase at the SXSW Music Conference in Austin, TX.

Wooden Shjips are from San Francisco, but the concentrated ferocity of the freak outs on their two very-underground releases–a white-label ten-inch EP (the band gave away the first 300 copies) and a clear-vinyl single (“Dance, California”)–arrives via the ’70s Germanic-guitar lunacy of Guru Guru and the confrontational repetition of VU.” –David Fricke, Rolling Stone

“..tight-wound repeato psych guitar raunch with spoony (maybe even imaginary) percussion, surprisingly Rev-like keys, and vocals buried under burning driftwood.” –Tom Lax, Siltblog

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Here we have a Wooden Shjips record the world saw coming– not titled “II,” “Sophomore,” or “Second,” but “Dos.” The group maintains its strident pace like a silverfish rave in perfectly folded bedsheets, with more bounce per ounce as life goes jogging with bopping heads and digging heels. Five numbers whose style might fit as cozily at La Cave in 1968 as at Ibiza in 1988. Natural loops with just enough vocals take you where the khakis and the cut-offs play together. “Dos” sounds off as the inauguration speech of a group accepting the minimalist psych bop crown that once adorned the likes of Neu! and Loop. If possible, their brand of whipping fuzz hooks have gotten groovier. “Motorbike” begins the program with an attack of bleeding organ and cicada chirps– a wiley, wheel-spinning cloud-kicker indeed. “For So Long” introduces the hip-swayed, shoulder-dropping dance steps of the album. At this point, the guitar delivers a concise Fogerty / Karoli vibe of stiff and loose kraut blues. Closing side one is the stop-motion go-go anthem “Down by the Sea.” Imagine yourself in the back of a cigarette boat with Alan Vega and Takashi Mizutani circling Easter Island. Smile as you melt under the glare of their mirrored sunglasses staring your own face back at you.

The needle drops on side two. Beyond the dawning of the age is “Aquarian Time,” a dense number that demands more weed and less booger-sugar. A steady plink of keys blipping like bright satellites in dark space accents this track’s blissed-out sludge. The hypnotic pop grace of “Fallin’,” the soundtrack for the last log on the fire as Winter eternally breaks into Spring, will stick in your mind until the record is played again on speakers of any size.

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Wooden Shjips, as it is today, started in 2006. The band self released a 10″ and 7″ that year and started playing shows shortly thereafter. Prior to 2006, Wooden Shjips was an experiment in primitive and minimalist rock. After it imploded, Ripley Johnson, guitar and vocals, assembled the current line-up of Dusty Jermier on bass, Nash Whalen on organ, and Omar Ahsanuddin on drums. West marks the first time the band recorded in a proper studio, as well as the first time with an engineer (Phil Manley). All previous recordings, either self-released, for Holy Mountain, or Mexican Summer were done more piecemeal in the band’s rehearsal studio. West was recorded and mixed in six days at Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco. It was mastered by Sonic Boom at Blanker Unisinn, Brooklyn, with additional mastering by Heba Kadry at the Lodge in New York.

The over riding theme for the album (as indicated by the title) is the American West, and all of the mythology, romanticism, and idealism that it embodies. The band members grew up on the East Coast, so for a long time the history and literature of the West was an abstraction and a fascination for them. Part of the allure of the West, which is part of the myth, is the concept of Manifest Destiny, the vastness, and the possibilities for reinvention, which is not to say that is what each song is specifically about, but it was very much an undercurrent during the songwriting of the album. The artwork also touches on the same theme by using an iconic structure that is both a gateway in a literal and metaphorical sense.

It is easy to see why these would appeal to Wooden Shjips, as their music lends itself to exploration. It is both transformative and transporting, the sum being far greater than it’s parts. The steady driving rhythms are the elliptical motion machine driven by the often thick and distorted guitar lines, melodic and boundless. Where they may lead cannot be anticipated but following them is exhilarating. It is all about getting there, the destination, while the experience of getting there is an adventure. It is the guitar lines that guide both the listener and the band on the literal and metaphorical journey into the vastness.

The ghostly vocals, obscured by dense layers of instruments surrounding them, are alluring with their airy mystery. This elusive quality further draws the listener in, while they attempt to grasp at their meaning. While indebted to both the psych music of the ‘60s and mid-‘70s, electric Neil Young, and even the induced travels of Spacemen 3, the Wooden Shjips’ music is modern and in every way their own. West is an epic journey to the edge and beyond.

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The Wooden Shjips’ earliest material was released on vinyl, pressed in small quantities that were either free or hard to come by and are now hopelessly out of print. Who are we to keep you away from the rush of “Shrinking Moon for You”? Vol. 1 collects all the tracks from the free 10-inch, the Dance, California 7-inch, and the SOL 7-inch.

The band will be out playing live, in their own nimble way, this spring and summer, road-testing new material for their next record.

 “… [T]ight-wound repeato psych guitar raunch with spoony (maybe even imaginary) percussion, surprisingly Rev-like keys, and vocals buried under burning driftwood. It’s a nice one.” –Byron Coley, The Wire

“Like fellow locals Comets on Fire or English space rockers Hawkwind or Spaceman 3, Wooden Shjips’ magic is created by a mix of pummeling hypnotic grooves and otherworldly guitar that sounds like Hendrix strung out in a methadone clinic.” –Andy Tennille, HARP

“‘Dance, California’ locks onto a three-note, twangy, nuclear beach groove and hangs out there for the duration, guitar slashery (in the single-note sweepstakes for a good long while) shooting over the top like artillery fire. On the other side, an atmospheric, slow drone and steady pulse frame blistery lead and what’s that, vocals? Oh, so nice, and sounding more like the new incarnation of F/i with each listen.” –Doug Mosurak, Dusted

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Sick Thirst presents Vol. 2, the second compilation of hard-to-find Wooden Shjips tracks. Vol. 2 digs deep to collect the band’s Sub Pop and Mexican Summer singles, two self-released European tour singles, and a track from Yeti magazine, for nearly 44 minutes of fuzzed-out psych jams. Not just for completists, Vol. 2 contains the essential live standards “Loose Lips,” “Death’s Not Your Friend (Live)”, and “I Hear the Vibrations (E-Z Version),” plus savage covers of Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues” and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Contact.”

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Wooden Shjips’ rise to prominence from the psychedelic underground to the rock and roll overground has been a steady sojourn. With each consecutive release, the band has found new ways of transforming heady psychedelic rock into minimalist masterpieces, bridging the gap between the woozy freeness of Les Rallizes Denudes and Crazy Horse and the tightly wound simplicity of Suicide and the Velvet UndergroundBack To Land, the quartet’s follow-up to West, is the first Wooden Shjips record to be conceived outside of San Francisco. Ripley Johnson and Omar Ahsanuddin moved to Oregon, where the lush climates became a major influence on the songwriting. The band’s scope expanded to include more earthy, grounded tones, such as the acoustic guitar, without abandoning their modernist psych core. 

There is an increased brightness to many of the songs on Back To Land, an easiness with which the band has flirted with in the past but never fully realized until now. The nervy urgency of West has evolved into an assured confidence, from the alliterative, interlocking guitar and organ groove of “Ruins” to the languidly compelling guitar solos of “Servants.” The addition of the acoustic guitar to the band’s textural palate is coupled here with some of the most melodically direct songs the band has written.

Still, there are still plenty of signature Shjips songs, with distorted riffs, modal keys, and a steady, crisp drum sound unfolding intensely while the elongated melodic guitar lines drift in and out of the foreground. On Back to Land this energy is captured in clear detail, designed as an immersive experience rather than a passive blasting. 

Back To Land was laid to tape at Jackpot Recording Studios in Portland by Kendra Lynn and mixed by Larry Crane. It was recorded over an 11-day session, resulting in some of the most detailed and spacious recordings of their career.

Back To Land is a breakthrough record for the Wooden Shjips: nuanced, varied and utterly addictive. The band will be touring extensively in the US and Europe November through February.

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Wooden Shjips, long-time leaders of the contemporary psychedelic movement, expand their sound with V. The quartet of Omar AhsanuddinDusty JermierNash Whalen and Ripley Johnson augment their already rich sound with laid back, classic summer songs. The songs were written during the summer of 2017 by singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson as an antidote to the pervasive anxiety both political and natural. As Ripley tells it, “We had huge forest fires just outside of Portland and there was intense haze and layers of ash in the city. I was sitting on my porch every evening, watching ash fall down like snow, the sky looking like it was on fire. It was an apocalyptic feeling. Summer in Portland is usually really chill and beautiful, and we were working on a ‘summer record,’ but the outside world kept intruding on my headspace.” V., a graphic representation of the Peace sign, seemed apt to an album focused on the power of peace, beauty and resistance. The music is a balm against the noise and negativity.

The first single “Staring At The Sun” is a nearly 8 minute laid back, slowly building narrative, whose lyrics tell of a gentle push and pull between the desire for sun and escape and the tug of anxiety, with peaceful resistance winning the day and guiding the tone. The restless traveller Johnson gives us a few of his signature traveling songs such as “Eclipse,” and “Red Line,” both showcases for the stellar rhythm section of Omar Ahsanuddin and Dusty Jermier. Their unparalleled sense of groove and restraint leaves ample room for Nash Whalen’s keyboard flourishes. There is movement and urgency in these tracks without aggression, a rolling foundation of rhythm over which Johnson’s voice floats and elongated melodic guitar lines soar.

Each song shimmers with a distinctly Wooden Shjips sound, a relaxed summer vibe. This was a conscious choice, an atmospheric goal that influenced nearly every detail: the tones, the delay types and reverbs used, as well as the synthesizer elements that colour the songs. The basics were recorded by Jason Powers at Types Foundry Studio in Portland. The guitars and vocals were largely recorded in Ripley Johnson’s comfortable home studio. The album was mixed by Cooper Crain (Cave, Circuit Des Yeux) who the band has formed close bonds with on tour. The instructions were simple “We told Cooper to keep it really fat but to feel free to play around with the other elements, make a nice headphone mix with a lot of movement,” said Ripley, “I wanted it to be floaty because that’s kind of where my headspace was at the time.”

The band’s members collectively share a love of classic rock from the Velvet Underground to Neil Young, as well as more overt love of the San Francisco scene of the 60’s. This commonality in their formative musical years binds them even as they live in different cities. V. finds Wooden Shjips embracing the emotions behind those sounds; peaceful defiance and opposition, while creating a sound and counter narrative to today’s hostilities that is wholly their own. Wooden Shjips has with V. created the most concise, laid back songs of their career. Their music is a balm of sorts, a respite from the insanity that, through its regenerative abilities, empowers continued, calm resistance. A reminder of the simple power of peace and beauty. Wooden Shjips, through V., have demonstrated the power of beauty and the power in creating it even while experiencing overwhelming dread. It is the perfect summer album, brimming with optimism and a peaceful energy, aptly timed for release at the height of spring.

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The first official live album from one of the linchpins of the neo-psychedelic movement of the new millennium. Shjips in the Night: Live in San Francisco, June 8, 2018 is a single career-spanning performance; an ultra-saturated, full-colour snap-shot of their peak live powers, it was multi-tracked at Slim’s in San Francisco and uniquely mixed by Heron Oblivion. This is a vinyl only release.

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Remixes is a 28 minute 12”EP featuring exclusive cuts and remixes from Andrew Weatherall, Sonic Boom (Pete Kember of Spacemen 3) and Kandodo (Simon Price of The Heads).

Remixes comes packaged in a full color LP jacket and is limited to only 2,500 copies worldwide (2,000 copies on black vinyl, 500 copies on crystal clear vinyl with black streaks).

Wooden Shjips return with this brand new Remixes 12″ that follows on the heels of 2011’s widely-acclaimed West LP. Featuring two remixes, one by Andrew Weatherall, and one by Sonic Boom, and a collaboration with kandodo.

Andrew Weatherall, long time producer and remixer who has worked with the likes of Primal Scream, New Order, My Bloody Valentine, and Bjork, remixed “Crossing”. Pete Kember, also known as Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3/Spectrum fame contributed “Wiking Stew (aka Red Krayola-ing)”. When Pete was called in to help master the record he was inspired by the album and made this mash up from West on his own. Last but not least is the track “Ursus Maritimus (Last Bear’s Lament)”, a long distance collaboration with kandodo (otherwise known as Simon Price from The Heads). Ripley created the bed of the track in Colorado in between tours and sent if off to Simon, in London. Simon added all the additional instrumentation at his home studio.

Albums:

  • Wooden Shjips (2007)
  • Dos (2009)
  • West (2011)
  • Back to Land (2013)
  • V. (2018)

Compilations:

  • Vol. 1 (2008)
  • Vol. 2 (2010)
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