There's a lot of psychedelic rock knocking around these days. Bands are dividing and sub-dividing the genre for their own ends, portraying themselves as either connoisseurs and anoraks of the genre - plumbing its depths and commandeering its more original, unique aspects - or as more broad, revivalist acts. Emulative to the point of irony, these latter acts are wont to change their singing accents (eg. from West Coast American if British, to estuary English or received pronunciation if American), and wear clothes that would have been deemed 'a bit much' in late sixties Kings Road, let alone 2013 Birmingham. As such, proponents of psychedelic rock range from the sublime (The Horrors, Tame Impala) to the ridiculous (Foxygen - who must never be forgiven for We Are The Twentieth Century Ambassadors For Peace And Magic), with a myriad of mediocrity in between.
Wooden Shjips, by comparison, seem to reside in a realm of peculiar and stubborn authenticity. Aesthetically, they dress down, with shorts and tee shirts taking preference over the flamboyant, colourful garments of their stylistic contemporaries and predecessors; something reflected in turn by the early to latter shift in hippie-dom from wilfully ostentatious to knowingly modest. Where they're similar to their forbears, however, is in their music- a thudding, gloriously repetitive and hypnotic barrage of organ, drums and guitars which almost surpasses the intensity of the first generation. Almost to the extent of purism, Wooden Shjips have relentlessly plied the case for psychedelic rock - employing an ardency and determination unwelcome in the more whimsical aspects of the genre and its history. As such, on their 6th record, Wooden Shjips' attitude is not so much 1967 Haight-Ashbury or Venice Beach as it is 1968 Chicago or Detroit.
But that isn't to say that Wooden Shjips have gone MC5; throat-tearing, political vocals are absent here. What Back To Land bears witness to is a band who refuse to compromise; there is no softness to their touch or relent in their intensity- this is psychedelia with the bliss, the optimism, the frivolity and the whimsy very much absent. Each track rolls along like a train, pinned down by a constant of riffs and bassline and sent soaring by the long solos that do nothing but add further strength to the incessant grooves. The opening, titular track and following 'Ruins' are indicative of the rest of the record and the band's contradictions: they are monotonous but never dull, exciting but never progressive. There is barely any change throughout the record- a slight change in pace ('In The Roses') or a slightly more jangly guitar ('Everybody Knows') sufficing for an LP that is unshakable in its sound and ethos.
Whether or not this is a bad thing is purely subjective. Those wanting an intense, borderline overdose, hit of rushing psychedelia for 42 minutes need look no further, whilst others wishing for a bit more diversity are barking up the wrong tree. What cannot be doubted, however is that Wooden Shjips have carved out their niche and have further whittled themselves an excellent home within it. The problem is is that I'm not sure they're too fond of guests.
6Jon Clark's Score