Wooden Shjips, long-time leaders of the contemporary psychedelic movement, expand their sound with V. which is released on Thrill Jockey Records this Friday. The quartet of Omar Ahsanuddin, Dusty Jermier, Nash Whalen and Ripley Johnson augment their already rich sound with laid back, classic summer songs.
The songs were written during the summer of 2017 by singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson as an antidote to the pervasive anxiety both political and natural. As Ripley tells it, “We had huge forest fires just outside of Portland and there was intense haze and layers of ash in the city. I was sitting on my porch every evening, watching ash fall down like snow, the sky looking like it was on fire. It was an apocalyptic feeling. Summer in Portland is usually really chill and beautiful, and we were working on a ‘summer record,’ but the outside world kept intruding on my headspace.” The basics were recorded by Jason Powers at Types Foundry Studio in Portland. The guitars and vocals were largely recorded in Ripley Johnson’s comfortable home studio. The album was mixed by Cooper Crain (Cave, Circuit Des Yeux) who the band has formed close bonds with on tour. The instructions were simple “We told Cooper to keep it really fat but to feel free to play around with the other elements, make a nice headphone mix with a lot of movement,” said Ripley, “I wanted it to be floaty because that’s kind of where my headspace was at the time.”
Opening with ‘Eclipse’ they waste no time in resuming normal proceedings, with oscillating guitar riffs before Ripley’s characteristic vocals shimmer over the surface. The track mutates as it continues, with new elements taking over from the beginning ones seamlessly. ‘In the Fall’ is a different entity, with a slower tempo and dreamier countenance. It’s the perfect warm up to ‘Red Line’, a complex track with juxtaposing elements that shouldn’t really go together, yet the skilful mastery and musicianship ensures it does. ‘Already Gone’ has a dancey rhythm which drives the track throughout, the quirky electronic noise that intersects the traditional guitar sound gives it an alternative edge that is certain to appeal.
First single ‘Staring at the Sun’ comes in at nearly eight minutes, with a slow building narrative that invokes imagery throughout and ‘Golden Flower’ continues this theme with its powerful and haunting guitar riff added. ‘Ride On’ concludes the album neatly, acting as a come down in many senses from the hedonistic heights we have just scaled.
V. will appeal to fans of the band, as it channels their now infamous sound, yet contains enough appeal in a saturated market to attract new fans. The whole album offers a relaxed summer vibe and with the seasons slowly turning, it’s the perfect soundtrack. This was clearly a conscious choice, an atmospheric goal that influenced nearly every detail: the tones, the delay types and reverb used, as well as the synthesizer elements that colour the songs.