Wooden Shjips: Back To Land

The US band’s fuzzy, far-out fourth. Just go with it...

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

Those who resist Wooden Shjips reckon it’s all been done a thousand times before, and, the plain fact is, it has. Resistance will kill it for you, and you’ll stick with your old albums by Suicide, The Velvets, Soft Machine, Spacemen 3 and Loop. Maybe some Neu!, some krautrock. To enjoy this band, you have to forget the past and embrace the moment.

This, like so many things in life, is best achieved by zoning out a little. Don’t focus too hard on what Wooden Shjips are doing, and how or why they’re doing it. Like one of those optical puzzle things where you’re supposed to let your vision go blurry in order to see the magic, Back To Land is at its most brutal and beautiful if you just allow it to wash over you, seep into you, without analysis or scrutiny or dissection.

It evokes a kind of trance state, if you permit it, and that’s when it works. That’s when you’ll get it. Primal, pure, their heavy-psych space-rock riffs and drones chug away like blood pumping, the repetition and simplicity tugging at your consciousness like mantras.

This is the fourth studio album from Wooden Shjips (and if you’re wondering where that stray ‘j’ came from, the band inserted it as a jokey reference to their favourite little-known underground Swedish bands). It’s the quartet’s first work to emerge from Portland, Oregon: key members Ripley Johnson and Omar Ahsanuddin recently relocated there from San Francisco.

Recorded in 11 days, it’s a tad crisper and cleaner than previous works, though everything’s relative. There’s even, for the first time, an acoustic guitar in passages, but don’t come in expecting James Taylor. It’s still gritty and grinding stuff, locking into blinkered grooves and driving them with distortion until one dimension opens out into an infinite number. From the opening seconds of the title track, that sludgy, flaked-out Stooges-on-mogadon sound announces what’s in store, and via muffled vocals challenges you to stay with them on a spooky journey into inner space.

There’s maybe a hint of skip and boogie on Ruins, and Ghouls is Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner fed through gauze soaked in porridge, but when the guitar solo breaks out halfway in, your heart will leap. The tempo drops for These Shadows, which carries an air of Galaxie 500, and the atmosphere throughout is both languorous and committed.

Wooden Shjips are nothing if not – to quote the Crosby, Stills & Nash/Jefferson Airplane song from which they lifted their name – very free and easy. Once again they’ve set a course, and they’ve gone. Best just close your eyes and travel with them.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.