The psychedelic San Francisco quartet Wooden Shjips have been steadily plotting away for a decade now, never shifting their base sound too much but always just enough to keep themselves interesting. Given psych is such a specific and niche genre, it’s funny how little variation there is for a genre that is supposed to be about opening the mind. Nevertheless, main man Erik 'Ripley' Johnson has been spending his time between this and his other project Moon Duo, keeping the genre fresh and interesting for both psych-heads and casuals alike.
V. unsurprisingly stands for the band’s fifth full-length record with its artwork representing peace in a time of chaos. Recorded in the summer of 2017, the band say they intended to write a 'blissed-out summery-feeling record', which they largely succeed at; this is perhaps the most 'pleasant' release of their back catalogue, however the political and physical landscape of America at the time “kept intruding on my headspace” as Johnson explains.
Aside from the obvious anxiety regarding the White House right now, V. was also written and recorded in the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest wild-fires that ravaged the region last summer, something Johnson directly addresses in lead-single ‘Staring at the Sun’. Musically that song is out of the most chilled out moments of the album, sonically reminiscent of the Lou Reed’s ‘Take A Walk on The Wild Side’, as if the narrator is embracing getting washed up in the chaos and destruction surrounding him.
Elsewhere, the album never lets up the atmosphere it creates; making it a perfect sunny-evening driving record. Opener ‘Eclipse’ is about as hard-and-fast as it gets, but aside from the traditional band set-up, it is the embellishments of brass instruments that really lift the track into good stead for the rest of the record. Recent single ‘Red Line’ is perhaps the poppiest track Wooden Shjips have created to date, bordering into early-Deerhunter territory. Meanwhile closer ‘Ride On’ finishes things off with an almost Spiritualised-esque ballad, bringing all the chaos down into a simple, restrained, final capsule.
Wooden Shjips’ fifth record, like pretty much all their records, is a pleasant, fun listen, perfect for the summer right around the corner as intended. There is a nagging sense with this attempt that they are leaning on their influences even more than usual, however this is also stands as their best-produced and most accessible record, so there is a balance struck. Whether those outside of the proggy, psychedelic set will acknowledge that, remains to be seen.
7Adam Turner-Heffer's Score