Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Wooden Shjips":
2 Music Reviews

"Wooden Shjips:" s/t

If you like a Doorsy vocal, a steadily repetitive neo-psychedelic mid-tempo sound, this album, all of half an hour, should prove a low-intensity pleasure. While I don't favor Jim Morrison in the original, I don't mind the singing style of the lead singer. He's able to insinuate himself into the guitar-drums-bass-keyboard swirl. If you like tunes that blur into one another as mood music, ones that go in and out of focus as you give yourself over to their single-minded approach, this will bore into you, subtly but steadily.

There's nothing self-aggrandizing about the sonic innovations here. This isn't meant as a criticism. Don't expect any grandstanding on the gloomy, brooding, melancholy restlessness that this S.F.-meets-Brooklyn band delivers. They like this monochromatic texture, which slowly shifts as if somber clouds drifting over a greying, darkening sky.

The group's other record, a compilation of early singles originally released in a limited edition with this self-titled one but now as Volume 1 (also reviewed by me) has appeared separately, shows a more Spaceman-3, staticky and Krautrock-inspired drone. By comparison, there's a tighter, if more slow-burning, approach on this eponymous CD, apparently their later work. This shows increasing movement towards music that's akin in its doomsday threats and understated tension to the Austin, Texas, ensemble The Black Angels.

"Volume 1":

As a handy compilation of material that preceded their self-titled CD, "Volume 1" shows a band much more inspired by Spacemen 3 than the Jim Morrison-style vocals favored on the later full-length record (also reviewed by me). This adjective may be rather misleading, as neither record goes much longer than half an hour. However, the density of these songs makes them seem like they go on forever.

This may be a warning for some listeners and an incentive for others. Being firmly in the latter camp, I liked the band's mix of keyboard Krautrock, guitar-bass-drums straightforward neo-psychedelia, and distortion effects. The emphasis on a slightly punkier, more ragged texture I find more appealing, in fact, than the Doors-Echo & the Bunnymen Jim Morrison-Ian McCulloch type of singing on the s/t record, but each has its own strengths. It seems the band's been evolving into a less loud but equally intense mood.

The songs heard here, therefore, tend towards studio effects that for me work well with the repetitive grooves and infinite space-rock stylings. They remind me of Farflung's "A Wound in Eternity" (also reviewed by me) in their adaptation of a Hawkwind-Chrome-postpunk melange that melds newer spacerock aesthetic with a postpunk aggression. With the exception of the throwaway gimmick "Space Clothes," which knocks down the rating here, it's a satisfying collection otherwise.

Buyers may want to know that Volume 1 had also been issued as a limited-edition (1000 copies) freebie with their self-titled CD, but this two-fer being long out of print, this re-release proves generous and welcome, as these songs are hard to find in their original issues. Support this indie band as they carry on a welcome tradition of forty-odd years of excursions into the ethereal realm of songs that go on as if forever, as if much longer than their brief incarnations here.

(Two reviews posted on Amazon US today.)

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