Growing up in semi-rural Washington, specifically in the early nineties, I was always surrounded by a dumbfoundingly random array of neighbors. There were always a collection of traditional red-state, tractor-towin’, shit-kickin’ Republican families; an abundance of well educated, upper-class elitist families (they may have referred to themselves as familial unit, or whatever happened to be politically correct at the time), and a host of hard-to-peg inbetweeners. However, regardless of whatever neighborhood I found myself in, there was always a Camaro or Trans-am sportin’ bad ass.
This individual was, almost by default, a single, thirty-something male. They wore large, wrap around, sunglasses. They smoked Marb Lights. They swilled Bud Light like it was vitamin water, or swill straight from the fountain of youth. You could always rely on the fact that these renegades would have their garage door open by mid day, taunting the neighborhood adolescents with early nineties, semi erotic photos, photos that always focused on a scantily clad woman (or women, in truly serious cases) leaning over a car very similar to the one this type of individual was constantly working on.
Maybe you knew of someone like this, odds are probably pretty good that you did. Do you remember what kind of music they had blasting out of their massively oversize, oftentimes blown speakers? Their music bordered on a threat or taunt to the neighborhood’s mothers and fathers, as if to say “only three more years until your daughter is MINE.”
Where is this going? Well, San Fransisco four-piece, Wooden Shjips, is the perfect band for the aforementioned self-appointed bad ass, especially were he to trade in his sunglasses for some hallucinogenic mushrooms, his Marb Lights for some absinthe, and his Bud Light for… well, I guess just Miller Light. Psychedelic rock and cheap beer do go hand in hand. Not to mention the fact that two of the five songs on this record have the word “ride” in the title.
Wooden Shjips swirling psychedelic offerings have a great deal in common with many early seventies acts- think the rhythm section of The Doors, teamed with the meandering pleasantries of Syd Barret, coupled with the hazy guitar pedal assault of early Jefferson Airplane. If this all sounds promising, don’t jump the gun just yet. Wooden Shjips make music much in the same vein as early Comets on Fire, or a less hyperactive version of Magik Markers, which is just the problem. They fail to establish their own identity, thus failing to make the music their own. This leaves the listener feeling as if they are listening to a band that is just kind of going through the motions. Sort of like watching Jimmy Page play the solo from “Stairway to Heaven,” in your living room……. on Guitar Hero II.
Wooden Shjips, at least on this outing, approach songwriting with a fairly repetitive formula. On most songs the rhythm section just kind of locks in to the same groove, while the listener is barraged with a circus of effect pedals, teamed vocals that sound as if the lead singer is on Ketamine, and uninspiring key board whirls. Where as ambient music, and to some extent, Krautrock, use drones and repetition of certain music phrases to put the listener in to a sort of trance, drones used with a sense of purpose, Wooden Shjips seem to use droning tones just because they don’t have much else to offer. Though the band does capture a sort of good times vibe on the track “Losin Time,” the other four songs all leave something to be desired.
This record does exactly the opposite of what a solid record should do. It sounds very promising on the first listen, but is just that, a good record to listen to once. Wooden Shjips have the potential to make an interesting, enjoyable, and unique record. They just need the confidence to embrace their own ideas and confidently run with them. This record just doesn’t capture a band doing that, thus, I cant in good conscious recommend it. That is, unless you find yourself with the un-ignorable craving to hang some hooters posters, and change the oil on the 1981 Trans-Am. In that case, this might be just the record for you. Most of these songs will fit in perfectly, right next to that one Eagles song, on that kick ass mix tape you are making for the waitress at your local dive bar.
Holy Mountain Records [EP, 2007]
1. We Ask You To Ride
2. Losin’ Time
3. Lucy’s Ride
4. Blue Sky Bends
5. Shine Like Suns