Wooden Shjips’ drone of ultra fuzzed out guitars aligns them with the trend of retro sounding new-music that seems to have exploded in the past couple of years. They are taking the psychedelic/early hard-rock sound and very much running with it. The band seems to be more than happy to sit on one chord for minutes at a time in the minimalist style, rhythmically chugging through a cloud of distortion a la Queens of the Stone Age. Wooden Shjips actually shows up Queens in their dark heavy sound being that much more darker and heavier.
The vocals, though certainly not the focus of any of the tracks, remain downplayed and monotonous. They definitely do their part to make the songs sound all the more sinister. It’s like the singer is speaking of bad omens, or summoning spirits and the like. When you get down to it, his singing style is downright eerie.
Extended instrumental sections, like in opening track “Black Smoke Rise”, do their best to mimic the wandering, seemingly one-take guitar solos of the first wave of psychedelic music of the late-60s. These sections seem to serve the songs in capturing a certain vibe, and places that as a higher priority than “saying something”. That shouldn’t be taken in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that a guitar solo, or keyboard solo, that is flashy and driven by technique with flourishes of 32nd notes and technical melodic bravado would truly just not work against the backdrop they are laying down. They seem to be sticking to a very strict stylistic theme and mood here and something showy would stick out far too much. They do a great job throughout the album of establishing and maintaining a consistent sound.
After the mid-tempo minimalism of the first two tracks there is a burst of energy in the form of a catchy vocal melody in an upbeat tune that is (perhaps ironically) titled “Lazy Bones”. This tune, along with the heavy riffage displayed in “Home”, create a nice dynamic across the album. Wooden Shjips remains true to their sound but show that there is always room to move and create something new, and possibly contrary, without abandoning the aesthetic they have been developing.
The album forms and arc with droning tunes “Black Smoke Rise” and “Rising” as bookends. The latter of those tunes is a backwards track that casts a knowing wink to their already “evil” sound. But the more upbeat riff-based tunes happen towards the middle of the record with “Looking Out” creating a connection by being both upbeat and still droning it its persistent rhythm and complete unwillingness to change chords. Meanwhile “Flight” takes a page out of the Tony Iommi book of devilish sounding riffs, replete with a delay ridden keyboard solo straight out of “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. In a way a lot of these songs ride the line right between those two worlds.
With “West” Wooden Shjips creates droning minimalist music in the context of the heavy, psychedelic rock genre. The attention to consistency of sound most certainly pays off in the end.