Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wooden Shjips' "Dos": Music Review

I liked, and reviewed, the earlier WS releases, their s/t début and "Vol. 1," their earlier singles. "Dos" (or "tres") continues their Loop-Spaceman 3- Suicide- Doors blend, with a touch of the Velvet Underground in beat and Echo & the Bunnymen for vocals. It's not an original sound, therefore, but a satisfying concoction-- provided you're a fan of the groups I mentioned and the band's first two records.

The diminishment of any Jim Morrison grandiosity in the lyrics works to the band's advantage; the voice is used as thoughtful, almost muted, texture and the singer therefore directs the pace rather than standing out. There's no showy moments for the band, and they work to support the songs in steady, perhaps obsessive attention to patterns. It sets up a trancelike quality for the listener, if you're in the right mood.

The group builds up its appealingly layered sound early each song and it rarely varies afterwards. This may either annoy or entice you. If you like the "motorik" beat of Krautrock, "Motorbike" takes this and adds a Suicide-like flanged vocal treatment on top of a Spaceman 3-Loop guitar-bass-drum simplicity that in its fuzzed-out repetition can be catchy, with a nice shaker percussion underneath it all.

Track 2, "For So Long," is more Doors-y, like many moments on their s/t record. I favor this sound slightly less, as I am not a Doors fan, but if you are, this matches the songs of the first "official" LP well. The third track stretches out, something I wish the band would do even more; all three CDs stop around half an hour, all with five songs! I bet live that these songs truly would open up and overlap well, and the studio may constrict their intended reach somewhat.

"Down by the Sea" sounds very very much like "Dance California"-- the single on "Vol. 1" that's probably their most lively piece. It's a great song originally if you like a ten-minute vamp-drone, but it does puzzle me why the bass line's nearly identical for long parts of this "new" song. There's an art to consistency, but this may take self-referentiality a bit too far. Luckily, it's a great riff, as the band must recognize to pay themselves this homage!

"Aquarian Time" resembles a mash-up between tracks 1 and 2; the last track, also ten-minutes or so, again allows the band to lock into a groove and take it away, over and over. This, of course, may resemble the Velvet Underground, and "Fallin'" does recreate that era with a lighter guitar overlay and an organ fill over another mechanical beat.

So, for the third release called "Dos," the San Francisco-based Wooden Shjips continues in the spare, intense, but appealing form they've made their own. In a time when so many groups imitate their forebears, this band knows from whom to choose the best elements. Like the classic-rock template crafted by The Soundtrack of Our Lives from other early-70s styles, Wooden Shjips may not be fashioning at this late stage in rock an original approach for a combined post-punk and Krautrock-psychedelic (two of my preferred genres) presentation, but I'm satisfied with their focus, their sources, and their interpretations! Quality has its rewards. (Posted to Amazon US 6-2-09)

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