WOODEN SHJIPS West (Bella Union)
Third album too for San Franciscos mighty Wooden Shjips, and a few changes are evident right from the off. A new label has taken them on, and whether as part of the deal or not, for the first time they have a producer - Phil Manley. Happy to do everything themselves for their first two albums, they now have someone to keep an eye on them and reign back on any excesses they might have been contemplating. Black Smoke Rise starts things off well, in that it sounds exactly like all their other songs steady droning backbeat with melodic organ and Ripley Johnsons hypnotic vocals. And of course this is exactly what we want. A spacey organ solo breaks up the track and a similarly spacey guitar solo erupts towards the end. No surprises and fans of the band can rest easy. The three chord drone of Crossing is helped along by a tambourine and some nifty guitar-work to become something of a touchstone for the band. If all the tracks are this good then this will be a stunning album. Lazy Bones ups the ante by being one of the fastest songs the band have ever done, and I love it. The faster tempo means the riff holding it all together can be more inventive, and it also provides the perfect backdrop for some great feedback soloing. Almost as if the band have suddenly realised that you can play faster than a slow dirge, Home is also an uptempo number, and once again contains some great guitar soloing. Flight has some authentic sounding 60s garage organ layered over the relentless beat, and its seven minute length gives plenty of time for some psychedelic organ soloing and a rocking guitar solo at the end. The pounding Looking Out has something of a surf vibe, with its reverbed guitar solos and 60s garage riff aided and abetted by that tambourine, and it has a more riff-led, Stooges-type feel to it rather than the usual droning backing. A welcome change that works, and it really adds something to the album. Rising closes things down with some classic Shjips. The droning guitars set up the beat, and the drums and guitar solo are then run backwards over it, closely followed by backwards vocals. Now, this is an experiment that could go horribly wrong, but it really seems to work in the context of this album, and does not sound weird or out of place at all. Fans of the band have nothing to worry about, as the change of label and introduction of an outside producer have not stifled the bands creativity, and they have produced another great piece of stoner rock. At the moment they are still a well-kept secret, but if they carry on making albums like this then hopefully people will start to take notice of this fine band.