by Sid Smith
13 June 2008
The first self-titled album by the oddly named San Francisco drone-rockers was surely one of the great releases of last year; a monumental swirl of shrieking feedback, dub-drenched vocals and mesmeric beats. Prior to this, the band released a series of sought-after singles in 2006, vinyl samizdat spouting the Wooden Shjips lo-fi manifesto, which promptly vanished into cultish collectability almost as quickly as they appeared. Long out of print, they've now been collated into this handy-sized showcase.
A corrosive caterwauling wall of sound, they produce a strange, strained Surf music emanating from a place where an apocalyptic sun glowers down on rolling waves of static, and where amplifiers are permanently cranked all the way up to eleven.
The tightly compacted slabs of sound invoke the spirit of the Velvet Underground but they also touch base with krautrock's cosmic thrum and the murky, often jarring repetition of early minimalism. Space Clothes is a college of spoken words, square-wave abrasions and rattling interference, whilst Death's Not Your Friend madly throbs to a repeating organ note around which ragged shavings of terminally scratched-up guitar chords dance and pound.
Every once in a while lyrics will bubble up out of the gloop, their syllables as oblique and peripheral as smoke, and just as impossible to decipher. Yet for all its intentionally primitive harshness, the music retains a popish sensibility that is oddly accessible.
Dance, California begins like a terminally tangled-up retake of Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild, whilst Clouds Over Earthquake has Erik 'Ripley' Johnson’s stately guitar rise magnificently from a haze of distortion, sounding like an outtake from Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting album. The exhilarating blitzkrieg of Shrinking Moon will get the blood rushing and like everything here, it needs to be played at max when the neighbours are out and animals are out of earshot.
Though I'm not sure that this is quite the thing the recently sainted Neil Diamond had in mind when sang about there being a Beautiful Noise, but it's an apt enough description of what you'll find on this magically impenetrable record.
"We Ask You To Ride"
06/19 Louisville, KY @ Melwood Arts Center (Terrastock 7 Festival)
07/12 Birmingham, UK @ Supersonic Festival
07/13 London, UK @ Cargo
07/18 Brighton, UK @ Barfly
07/19 Bristol, UK @ Croft