Nearly a year ago now, I posted a blog about Wooden Shjips live, when they played with Howlin Rain and The Meat Puppets in London. They were superb, and I’m pleased to say that their psychedelic dancehall schtick has been totally realised on “Dos”, their upcoming third album, which has burning itself onto my synapses these past ten days or so.
Like I said last time, the San Francisco quartet are heavily, heavily indebted to The Spacemen Three (especially circa “The Perfect Prescription”, maybe), The Doors, The Velvets, motorik and Suicide. But on the five high and expansive tracks of “DoS”, there’s a bounce and weird programmatic funk to their endless grooves – “minimalist psych bop” they call it, justifiably. The format is fairly straightforward: the rhythm section lock into some rudimentary shimmy, and stick to it doggedly, precisely, for something around ten minutes. There are shades of creaking, swirling organ, low-mixed, reverbed vocals and then great stretches of fuzzed guitar solo from Erik ‘Ripley’ Johnson.
Much as I despise the term, it’s not rocket science, but my God, when it’s carried out with such pulsating vigour as on “Dos”, there’s not much to argue about. Wooden Shjips understand something critical that has largely been overlooked since the heyday of the Family Dog or whatever – namely that psychedelic freakouts can be danceable, too. There’s a sensational track here on “DoS”, “Down By The Sea”, which soon evolves/degenerates into a languid firestorm of soloing from Ripley, but which maintains that ruthless, undulating groove.
It’s that sense that one way of running a psychedelic band (not one that The Grateful Dead signed up to, admittedly) is to ensure the rhythm section are completely nailed down, providing a firm base for the explorations of the guitarist. For the most part here, the sound is thick and heavy, so it’s often hard to make out details: is Riley really quoting from The Band’s “The Weight” somewhere in the depths of “Motorbike”?
By “Fallin'”, though, the sound is cleaner and more stripped down, with the organ to the fore and the distortion turned off. Here, there’s a distinct echo of La Dusseldorf, with a crude and relentless Dingerbeat and the bobbling organ line stretching out towards the event horizon. Frankly, and I say this again and again I know, they could just keep going forever.