Wooden Shjips were one of the first of the new ‘psych’ bands I got into around the start of this decade. I was lucky enough to catch them by chance a the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, brilliantly supported by the recently formed Hookworms (their second ever gig I believe), and was pretty much converted on the spot. Over the years they have been a band that I have come back to and, while I think their early albums are excellent, I have really liked how they seem to have somehow added a layer of something with every release… something which I remarked on when reviewing their last album, ‘Back To Land‘, back in 2013.
That was five years ago and I must confess that ‘Back To Land’ hasn’t been on my turntable much in recent times. However, when I heard that Wooden Shjips were bringing out a new album I dug it out and it was something of a ‘wow’ moment. I’d really forgotten how good it was, and it’s been on regular rotation ever since. So does ‘V’ continue with that development?
I would say that it is certainly more subtle, and perhaps not so immediate. This has been the case for me with each successive Wooden Shjips release, with Ripley Johnson’s guitar reaching new levels of penetration into the soul. Opening track ‘Eclipse’ is a case in point. Beginning with what you might say is a trademark Wooden Shjips intro, there is a fantastic ‘next level’ melody in Johnson’s vocals before that soaring guitar kicks in. This has immediately grabbed me as a favourite track of theirs and I could listen to this on repeat for quite some time without getting bored. After that tracks like ‘In The Fall’ and ‘Already Gone’ take the pace down a step with a softer more lilting tempo that has a much more spacey feel to it. Writing this on a Sunday morning I’m feeling well chilled out… it’s cool and hazy if that’s not to cliched.
‘Red Line’ does not stray too far from the band’s formula but, I this is why I like and get Wooden Shjips, it’s the instrumentation around the edges that give each track its unique feel and this is perhaps why each album needs more time to be allowed to bed into you brain. For me you need to get that central idea in your cranium before the the other parts can come alive, which I why the band are one of those you can come back to again and again.
Another highlight for me is ‘Staring at the Sun’ which has a real lightness to it through the vocal with some really thunderous interludes in between like a heavy pondering instrumental chorus. This is not so much as ‘fast/ slow’ but slow then different slow. Either way it gives the track a really nice texture that feels both melancholy and dramatic. Again, one that I will continue to listen to in years to come I’m sure.
Towards the end of the album ‘Golden Flower’ somehow takes thinks up a notch with a mix that seems more complex. Johnson’s voice is pitched a little higher which seems to give the track a little more edge and immediacy. Again you can’t say that the band are straying very far from their formula but, again, you also cannot deny its sheer listenability. This is music which is not unexpected, nor is it particularly experimental, but I find it somehow irresistible at the same time all the way to ‘Ride On’ at the end. I don’t need to say any more that this, feels like the band take on Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes’, at least in terms of atmosphere.
With ‘V’ Wooden Shjips have once again won me over with another album that seeks to hone what is of me a winning formula. With many bands I long for them to do something radically different from album to album. With Wooden Shjips there is something about their approach that means that I want more of the same, because I know that ultimately it’s not going to be the same. So it is with this album, which is overall slower, softer and more subtle than its predecessors, while at the same time is an album you want to envelop you and let the melodies and eddies of sound wash over you.
‘V’ is out now on Thrill Jockey.
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