Wooden Shjips


Rating: 3.5

Label: Holy Mountain

Although I doubt this is the case, when I hear Wooden Shjips, I imagine them practicing in some run down old bunker in San Francisco with nothing on its stark walls except a hastily scrawled motto of sorts, straight from the mouth of Mark E. Smith: “We dig repetition in the music/ And we’re never going to lose it.” It’s the type of unity of concept I wish all bands could adhere to, a simple mission statement and a suitably vague and mysterious identity. And as far as mission statements go, you can’t do much better than Smith’s “three R’s:” repetition repetition repetition.

Those familiar with Wooden Shjips’ debut EP already know what to expect from the suitably named Dos: chugging rhythms, hazy guitars and vocals so buried you’re not sure if they’re in your head or your speakers. This group loves a groove so much that they don’t ever want to let it go. Call it post-krautrock resurrected in California rather than its native Germany, call it psychedelic rock, call it motorik jamming; it really doesn’t matter because it all just comes back to that groove. And that groove is a pretty damn good one when you get down to it. Bassist Dusty Jermier and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin are so tight as a rhythm section you have to wonder if they’re secretly conjoined twins. Though their parts don’t necessarily vary or alter in a perceptible way, they deftly handle the task of being hypnotic and interesting; it’s easy to get lost in what they’re doing and fail to even perceive that there are any other instruments. This is especially true on “For So Long,” which features characteristically excellent guitar work from Ripley Johnson that you sometimes have to consciously look for amidst the churning organ and rhythm.

This is what ultimately makes Wooden Shjips so interesting, rather than just another boring jam band musically masturbating on record. For all of the basic simplicity of their songs, there’s a vast array of intricacy going on underneath the robotic grooves that can only be revealed by playing it numerous times. This especially comes in handy when you’re dealing with the band’s more epic songs, such as the nearly 11-minute long “Down by the Sea,” coincidentally also the only track on the EP in which it could possibly be argued that the vocals are something approaching intelligibility.

Wooden Shjips could still stand to experiment more with their template, though. The best tracks on Dos are largely those that add snippets of adventure to the repetition-heavy formula, like the chorus-drenched keyboards on “Aquarian Time” or the background arrangement of “For So Long.” More obvious numbers like “Motorbike” lag slightly behind, not really offering anything different or exciting. But those moments are few and far between in the band’s catalog. It’s even possible that this EP will wind up being barely similar to what the band might explore on their debut full-length, though one does get the sense that the group will always be serious about the “never going to lose it” portion of their mission statement.

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