San Francisco has a long history with psychedelic music, but no band epitomizes the new psychedelic sound of San Francisco like Wooden Shjips. After releasing some great records on Holy Mountain, Wooden Shjips unleash West, their first record for Thrill Jockey. West finds the band in a proper studio for the first time and the new environment suits them well, as West is undoubtedly Wooden Shjips’ best record to date.
In the past, when introducing someone to Wooden Shjips, I would describe the band’s sound as a heavy-psych record played by the Doors. Fuzzed-out guitar journeys soaked in organ was the name of the game. For West, the farfisa organ has been dialed back a bit, placing Ripley Johnson’s guitar in a more prominent role. This adjustment makes all the difference. On previous records the organ seemed to run the rest of the instruments into the corners, now there is balance and West is better for it. From the fuzzy grooves of “Black Smoke Rise” to the space-out trance of “Rising,” West is an intense, gripping record; it’s not fast paced, or bombastic, but these songs pin you to your seat and keep your attention from start to finish.
It would be nearly criminal to talk about this record without mentioning the fantastic engineering work of Phil Manley. When not recording with his band mates in Trans Am, Manley is quickly becoming a popular engineer. West sounds amazing and Manley may be one of the primary reasons for the fantastic results. Bringing Manley and Wooden Shjips together was a great move, and West is the result. This one is sure to be on many year-end lists and I dare say you’d be foolish not to give this record an hour of your time.