Review Summary: Repetition is bliss.
During an interview for the album Catch 33
, one of the most mind bending albums in the history of music, Sweden’s Meshuggah were asked by Metal Hammer Greece whether they had a blast in copiously reproducing the complex and abstract patterns contained therein. Of course, the question was rhetorical. The Swedes responded by emphasizing the importance of repetition in conveying the listener out of the physical boundaries of his perceivable surroundings. On a whole different note, Lou Reed (R.I.P.) condensed the semantics of his rock song writing approach by merely saying: “One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz
”. Although both parties come from totally different musical backgrounds, they seem to agree on one thing: repetition is bliss.
With their turn, Portland/San Francisco based psychedelic rock outfit Wooden Shjips have been endorsing the previously mentioned principle since their formation in 2006. After a few vain participations in bands of no particular interest, guitarist and classic/psychedelic rock enthusiast Erik “Ripley” Johnson came up with the idea of forming a rock band whose line up would be comprised of non musicians. The rules of conduct couldn’t be simpler: music should be kept as basic as possible, the droning/noise elements of outfits such as Velvet Underground should be thrown to the mix at variable amounts, while the element of repetition should be projected on all future explorations with respect to the oceanic ‘60s/’70s rock music literature.
The band’s eponymous debut aligned perfectly with the said directives, combining the droning/noise effect with late ‘60s rock, whereas on the sophomore effort Dos
things became more upbeat and transcendental. Whereas the first two albums were tracked in home/rehearsal studio environments, the third one, West
, was produced in a proper studio and signified Wooden Shjips’ excellent first attempt in expanding towards mainstream rock and more conventional song structures. While each song was upgraded from the previous state of one-to-two-chord improvisations, the album seemed to be comprised of two partially blended parts; the upbeat and fairly diversified part, and the drone-ish, psychedelic counterpart. In contrast to its predecessor, the fourth Wooden Shjips album, entitled Back To Land
, comes to homogenize in full, all the characteristic attributes of the band into a sunny and relaxing psychedelic rock jam.
Back To Land
kicks off with the eponymous track, which is representative of the album as a whole. The tone and the noise levels of Johnson’s rhythm guitars have been lowered down considerably, in terms of sound production. In doing so, Wooden Shjips succeed in making their material as easy listening and cool as possible, and tread on the trails of acclaimed artists such as Tom Petty. In the majority of the album, the rhythm guitars have been given a sound texture that could be easily associated with that characteristic “winding” noise that cassettes used to sound like, after heavy playing. The implemented riffs, on the other hand, are faithful to the vast inheritance of ‘60s/’70s rock in a strictly minimal and “unitary” manor, whereas the same apply for Johnson’s "shy" vocals, the rhythm section of Jermier/Ahsanuddin and Nash Whalen’s keyboards.
The lead guitars, on the other hand, are the album’s nominal means of improvisation, and while Johnson is delivering a seminar in note austerity, his leads are as essential as they can get. Be that as it may, the album’s diversity can be also ascribed to its tracks listing order, as not one of them is of the exact same mood as the next one. In that light, the drone-y space rock Wooden Shjips have been always known for, is evident in tunes such as “Other Stars”, the enticing “Servants” or the Beatles-esque “Ruins”, but not at the heavy dosages prescribed for Wooden Shjips
. Moreover, the drone tracks serve as a bridge of smooth transition between the upbeat (“Back To Land”, “In the Roses”, “Ghouls”) and the more subdued (“These Shadows”, “Everyone Knows”) anthems of the album.
The importance of Back To Land
lies in that Wooden Shjips came up with a differentiated way of expression with respect to their past work, while conforming fully to the directives the band identifies with. Moreover, the album can serve as an effective means of mental (or other) stress relief for those who will care to come around it, and this is not a figure of speech.