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LIVE REPORT: Wooden Shjips
Tristan Bath , December 13th, 2013 09:12

Tristan Bath joins the nodding masses at Wooden Shjips' recent show at The Scala in London

Somewhat akin to staring at a Kuwaiti oil field, the crowd at a Wooden Shjips gig is possibly the epitome of incessant, persistent nodding. The songs shift slightly in tempo or colour, but the nodding remains. Metronomic. Hypnotised.

It's little more than rock & roll, but like all universes we can look at it either on the largest possible scale - taking in perhaps lightyears of distance and leather-clad 80s rock - or indeed infinitesimally. The latter sees rock music defined on a molecular level, revealing an omnipresent skeleton of riffs and beats, looping and interlocking within every tune. The late Lou did this with the Velvets on 'Sister Ray' or deeper cuts like 'Follow The Leader' - but Wooden Shjips have gone right ahead and made extrapolating every component of rock well beyond its logical conclusion into an outright ideology.

From the first tune to the last you'd be foolish to try and pick a high point in hindsight. Naturally the moment takes you and one of the more uplifting pedal-fed axe-cursions of guitarist/singer/driver, Erik 'Ripley' Johnson unwittingly strikes you there and then, or perhaps an organ lick loops enough times to linger for a few hours thereafter. But the formula is consistent: gristly psychedelic riffs, a groovy organ bed, and a metronomic beat from somewhere between Düsseldorf and Haight Ashbury all underpinning a delay-warped vocal which matters inasmuch as its absence would leave a voice and little more. Although the appearance of typical guitar music remains - words, solos, and all-important riffs - they are in actuality all but removed. While 70s punk bands such as Wire sought to remove all but the essentials from a rock 'song' and craft pounding breakneck sets (as a manifesto, the streamlined Pink Flag is almost the antithesis of any given Wooden Shjips track), the emphasis here is quite the opposite, and quite in keeping with the legendary Swedish underground aesthetic that main man Ripley cited in conversation with the Quietus. It remains for the most part strictly rhythmic, veiling the necessities of melody and structure behind repetition and bottomless fuzz.

The title of Wooden Shjips’ most recent effort - Back To Land - tellingly suggests something of an abandoning of the San Franciscans’ cosmic jams. While the radio-friendly psych has certainly started flowing freely on tape (the Back To Land version of ‘These Shadows’ is certifiable road trip rock), the same songs in a live setting are still those same cyclical freakouts we now know so well. In fact ‘These Shadows’ in particular produced one of Ripley’s most veracious solos, spiralling ever upward (or perhaps downward… hard to tell behind all the echo and fuzz) in that mesmerising and deafening fucked up spirit of Takashi Mizutani. Beset on all sides by projected oscillations and Joshua Light Show visuals, every track - unchanging as it may be - is a ‘trip’ in the truest possible sense. Watching the ridiculously-bearded Shjips reach the evening’s sixth or seventh rapturous acid riddled, effects muddied peak before gliding down to that same Spacemen 3 organ chug for another song’s tail-end, it’s surprising to find myself thinking again back to how sometimes there really is no need to deviate from a winning formula.

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