wooden-ships

The press release for ‘Back To Land’ indicates a renouncement of sorts – one that abandons the band’s fundamental appeal. It talks of their rise to prominence from the psychedelic underground to the “rock and roll overground”, the “increased brightness” of the new songs with the inclusion of more “earthly, grounded tones”. Fortunately, this is mere hyperbole; the Shjips’ driving, immersive psychedelia never sounded so perceptive, with their trademark distortion-laden progressions and elongated guitar lines all present and correct.

There’s been a palpable resurgence of psych in contemporary music in the last couple of years, but Wooden Shjips’ practice of the lysergic is perhaps more convincing than most. It reveres the use of repetition– it’s iterative without sounding derivative: despite their hitherto short existence, a cursory listen to any of their previous three LPs would have you believe that they’ve been peddling their ominous walls of space-drone since circa 1973. Their predilection has typically been for lengthy jams akin to that extolled by Hawkwind, underpinned by vocals that seep deep into the background, with an overall negligence of the importance of words.

This time around, though, the lengthy freak-outs of yore are lightly forgone and ‘Back To Land’ inclines towards comparative brevity, with an average song coming in at around five minutes. There’s also more emphasis on Ripley’s vocals, warmer and more confident within arrangements that fully support them, yet still evasive and right back in the mix. The band’s cosmic chug is still there, however, albeit distilled, and in turn the songs appear more structured than on previous ventures.

There’s a distinct shift in the general feel of the music on ‘Back To Land’, and this ostensibly pertains to the album’s title and is no doubt partly down to a change in geography – Wooden Shjips are no longer a San Francisco based gang of dropouts, but a group homed in the “lush climates” of Oregon. It’s made their jams less celestial, warped and meandering, not that they ever lose sight of their minimalist psych core, the opening title track’s echo and fuzz instilling everything that follows it. From the expansive urgency of ‘In The Roses’ to the soporific languidness of ‘These Shadows’, each song here retains a sense of purpose, none too short, and none too prolonged to outstay its welcome.

Wooden Shjips’ scope has obviously expanded, but these are only subtle sonic changes and fans of the band’s first three records won’t be disappointed here. The feedback, the fuzz, the perpetual grooves that defined the band – it’s all still there. More nuanced, more varied, and melodically robust, ‘Back To Land’ metamorphoses the nervy urgency of predecessor ‘West’ into a more confident, rounded, and focussed vision.

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