Hey kids, do you like the psychedelic jams? Do you like to drone out on the goof sauce and get weird? Of course, you do. Well, if you’re also into the minimalist, fuzzed out, experimental space grooves of San Francisco‘s WOODEN SHJIPS, you’ll probably be pleased to discover that they have a new full-length album slated for release next month. If you live on the West Coast, we have some additional news to keep your synapses buzzing like a mosquito zapper; the 4-piece is doing a quick 5 show run this month and it’s super easy to grab yourself a pair of tickets to peep them out live free of charge.
When guitarist/vocalist, Eric “Ripley” Johnson started WOODEN SHJIPS in 2003, he did so with the same vision that a lot of burned-out musicians have attempted to employ in the past. His idea was to, basically, gather up a bunch of fools who had no idea what the fuck they were doing, lacked proficiency in their instruments and, in turn, wouldn’t have any other option than to create something refreshingly new and without limitation. The problem with this idea is that, when you’re dealing with a format like that, the limitations are still clearly present; they’re just of a different nature. It can be difficult to find capable musicians who are focused and dedicated to a project, let alone finding people that have already proven that they have no desire to master the instruments that they’ve been handed. Then there’s always the question of, “Once they learn how to incorporate some level of rhythmic pattern, is the experiment/project over?” Of course there’s a fine line, but the fact that certain members had no desire to play live or move forward inevitably changed the project and forced it to evolve. Eventually, both the members and the music eroded down to something more polished, with the collective resembling something much closer to a 4-piece rock outfit and the wayward sounds mutating into more traditional song structures. It’s true that many of the tracks still break the 10 minute mark with extended jams, dissonant vocals, spaced out delay, a haunted organ, and an overall ghost-like eeriness, coated and vivisected by Ripley‘s soaring/screeching guitar work, but there are solid grooves and evident frameworks supporting the swirling storms within.
Johnson held the romantic notion of recording material that would undoubtedly get lost in the folds of time, only to be discovered in the future as hidden gems, much like Gary Higgins‘ Red Hash or Gary Wilson‘s You Think You Really Know Me. One major difference between Ripley‘s work and that of the Garys -aside from their clearly opposing aspirations- is that, while artist of the distant past had to work exponentially as hard to find a voice through album distribution and advertisement in a pre-MTV world, WOODEN SHJIPS was created in the internet age, where the idea of “experimental” music is much more widely embraced and quiet, independently-produced albums are much more widely accessible. WOODEN SHJIPS released a few limited run releases without any real promotion or internet presence, but it wasn’t long before they gained a healthy buzz. Their first official full-length was a self-titled effort released on Portland, Oregon-based, Holy Mountain records in 2007 and was followed by a compilation of the self-released/harder to find tracks called Vol, 1 the following year. 2009 saw the release of DOS, also on Holy Mountain, which had the vocals sounding a slightly less “Doorsy” and contained 2 tracks that were over 10 minutes; pluses that helped to grow my interest for the group further. On schedule, an additional compilation of lesser known tracks, aptly titled Vol. 2, was released in 2010.
Since their last official full-length in 2009, however, Ripley Johnson has been working as part of the two-piece, keyboard/guitar space rock outfit MOON DUO and, with their album MAZES (Sacred Bones) becoming one of the most played releases for me this year, I questioned the possible future of WOODEN SHJIPS. Clearly any doubt on my part was unwarranted, as their new album, WEST is slated for a September 13th release date, falling right in the middle of the European leg of an extensive upcoming tour. For this new release, the SHJIPS have switched over to Chicago-based Thrill Jockey records (Tortoise, Trans Am, Mi Ami, Boredoms, etc) to make their first proper studio recordings, with the mastering being handled by Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum fame.
Before heading out to Europe in September, five West Coast dates have been announced, as well as a free RSVP link to obtain free tickets to attend each of the performances. Sponsored by Sailor Jerry Rum, the link does require you to agree to receive further emails from the company, but let’s be honest… all you have to do is give them that hotmail account that you created in 1999 and never pay any fucking attention to anymore anyway. Simple simple…