November 24, 2013

Wooden Shjips, "Back to Land"

How refreshing that Wooden Shjips have pointed their collective bow toward uncharted waters. The SF band (now based all over — California, Colorado, Oregon) has been chugging away at the throbbing, trance-flavored psych rock for years, and they've drilled that mine to the point where they definitely have "a sound." But that level of instant recognition can threaten one's virility. What good is the talent if it ceases to surprise? Here, on Back to Land, the band delivers what smells and tastes definitively like "Wooden Shjips music," but it's got a new confidence. Some washes of harder-edged electronic stuff, some happier moments and some darker moments. Miles of guitar solos, of course, and motorik bass and drums. But the mix is heavier and more varied from tune to tune. You'll hear them pushing the edges out, loosening the ties. The result is a record that's more sonically rich than anything that's come before — really digging all the acoustic guitar, for one thing — and also more accessible. It's not like the Wooden Shjips were ever threatening to become a parody of themselves, but they were sticking a little too close to their guns. There's no worse way to go out than with a dulled point, fading to gray. Here they are, back on top, in glorious technicolor. Drink it up. Also, bonus points for the bitchin' packaging. A gatefold wrapped in every manner of pop-art psychedelia and colorful kitsch (mushrooms and peace signs and lightning bolts and third eyes) that slots into a white sleeve punctuated with small die-cut circles that let the pops of pop-art color poke through at random. Like Zeppelin III but more whimsical. And blue-green vinyl at the creamy center!