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Album Review

by Wooden Shjips

Thrill Jockey

Review Date
6th September 2011
Reviewed by
Alistar Wickens

Wooden Shjips have taken on an ambitious theme with their latest album West; the exploration and settlement of the American West. It's ambitious for a couple of reasons; the band isn’t known for having a lot of lyrics with which to tell a story, and their sound has stayed pretty consistent through all three of their albums.

They manage to pull it off well though, imbuing the album with a sense of optimism and a feeling of embarking on a journey, something that wasn’t always apparent in their previous efforts. The seven songs on West are more buoyant than on the other albums, the rhythm section less throbbing and more driving and pushing, giving a sense of urgency at times. The vocals are clearer on this release too, rising above the instruments, giving the songs a floating feeling, where before the vocals seemed to pull you down into the music: all of which combine to make this their best sounding album to date, and their most accessible too.

West sees a rockier sound too, possibly as a result of having shorter, more focussed songs (although they still clock in around the 5-7 minute mark), with “Flights” beginning with a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on an old Black Sabbath record.  They still manage to make it identifiable as their own sound though, particularly when the guitars make way for the organ and the song takes off into a soundscape jam, building on itself relentlessly.

The band are known for taking an idea and repeating 2 or 3 chords over and over, building up layers of sound; here the structure is the same, but the sound is more polished and clearer than on the previous two albums (apparently it’s the first recorded in an actual studio) and the ideas more complex.

Out of the three Wooden Shjips albums I’ve heard (I haven’t had a chance to listen to the two collections of rare tracks yet), this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. If you’re already a fan I have no doubt that you’ll get into this in a big way; if you haven’t heard them before, then I recommend that you get out and take a listen to West as soon as you can – it’s a great entry point into the band’s sound and philosophy.  My only complaint was that 7 songs wasn’t enough, but that’s just left me wanting to hear more from Wooden Shjips.

The band toured here last year and were well received; let’s all cross our fingers and toes and hope they grace us with another tour on the back of this album – I think these tracks would be great in a live setting.


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