It’s been five years since Ripley Johnson and Wooden Shjips set sail with their last LP titled Back To Land. Five years in this day and age feels more like a lifetime, so the announcement of the California psych rockers return was a much welcomed thing. Not that Johnson was just sitting on his laurels these past few years. In 2015, Johnson released Shadows of the Sun with Moon Duo(his electro/psych side project with Sanae Yamada.) Then in 2017 Moon Duo released two albums, Occult Architecture Vol. 1, and later in the year Occult Architecture Vol. 2. A concept album about the dark and the light, the ying and the yang, the male and female, they were both easily the best Moon Duo records yet.
Off that success Wooden Shjips returns with the excellent V.. This album can’t really be described as a return to form as Wooden Shjips have never really left the form they began with. What is that form? Fuzzy psych rock, space-y drones, and minimalist grooves in various shapes and forms since their self-titled debut in 2007. Some records had harder edges(West), while others tried to lighten up the mood a bit(Back To Land), but every time out Wooden Shjips kept it far out with a West Coast attitude. V. takes everything that came before and turns it into both the mellowest and loosest record yet.
“Eclipse” has a familiarity to it. That’s more than likely because of that dream-like guitar courtesy of Johnson. The echoed fuzz is his calling card, both with Shjips and Moon Duo. This song feels as if it’s falling from space, returning to earth’s atmosphere ablaze and ready to explode into a ball of fire. There’s some groovy saxophone thrown in that adds new sonic touches to the WS musical agenda. “In The Fall” has an all new vibe. Tighter grooves take over from the loose dreaminess, but there still ends up being plenty of dreaminess in the chorus. There’s hints of Suicide in Johnson’s vocal delivery as well. The spirit of Alan Vega lives on here. The quartet of Omar Ahsanuddin, Dusty Jermier, Nash Whalen and Ripley Johnson also capture some of the magic that NEU! possessed on their first couple of albums. “Red Line” is a pure, breezy summer jam. There’s an air of positive vibes and long car rides here with the backwards guitars and head-bopping rhythms that’s infectious. This might be one the most upbeat tracks Wooden Shjips have committed to tape.
According to Wooden Shjips Bandcamp page: “The songs were written during the summer of 2017 by singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson as an antidote to the pervasive anxiety both political and natural. As Ripley tells it, “We had huge forest fires just outside of Portland and there was intense haze and layers of ash in the city. I was sitting on my porch every evening, watching ash fall down like snow, the sky looking like it was on fire. It was an apocalyptic feeling. Summer in Portland is usually really chill and beautiful, and we were working on a ‘summer record,’ but the outside world kept intruding on my headspace.” You do get the sense that Johnson and Wooden Shjips are working against some kind of psychic downer here. They seem to be trying to build this positive musical statement against a world figuratively(and literally) up in flames.
The first single to be released was the nearly 8-minute “Staring At The Sun”. Imagine Love n Rockets and Jesus and Mary Chain working things out in some London studio back in the mid-80s and you’ll get what’s going on here. Loping rhythm and Johnson laying the vibes on thick. Pure space vibes. “Ride On” signs this record off in style. It’s as if The Band discovered fuzz pedals and got turned onto spacier realms as opposed to the earthier ones. It’s a beautiful and noisy way to end things.
I think Wooden Shjips were getting into a musical rut. While Back To Land was a decent record, it wasn’t breaking new sonic ground. V. is a stellar return for Wooden Shjips, while also opening the doors to new realms the band hadn’t yet visited. V. is the perfect summer jam that will easily carry you into fall and winter.
7.9 out of 10