I spent a fair amount of time theorizing about what Portland via San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips sounded like before I ever heard them. Something about their weird spelling of “ships” made me think the band would be exploring uncharted territory, representing the great capacity for new musical genres. When I finally heard them, I was surprised that they’re a hypnotically groovy, repetitive and strangely restrained bunch. And yet it’s a refreshingly simple formula, and one that proves a personal theory that the best rock and roll is the stuff with the simplest melodies.
Wooden Shjips are a hit for two reasons. First, the basslines are understated and nicely punctuate the grooves of the songs. Second, the deep, loud snare drum is wonderfully propulsive in combination with the bass.
On V, the band’s formula hasn’t drastically changed, but the vocals — normally mostly buried — are more prominent, clear and crisp than in past recordings. The songs are more hooky, with some seriously sticky melodies. Band leader and singer Ripley Johnson wrote these tunes in the summer of 2017, while forest fires ravaged the West, filling our valleys with smoke and ash. The uptempo, happy grooves offer the aural equivalent of a beautiful sunset in the midst of horrible air and raining ash. I think this is a welcome first in what could easily be a new movement. Smoke core? Smoke-psych? Forest-fire core? Yeah, I’ll quit with that.