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Published: 2010/04/05
by Brian Robbins

Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo
Vol. 2 & Escape

Sick Thirst

Woodsist

Feed your heads, boys and girls: fresh from good ol’ San Francisco comes a double-helping of psychedelic sound from the Wooden Shjips’ family tree. First, the Shjips themselves have released a collection of betcha-didn’t-have tracks, while Shjipmate Ripley Johnson turns up the volume on a project of his own. Fun? Oh, yesss …

Consider Wooden Shjips’ new Vol. 2 as a sampler platter chock-full of cosmic cold cuts from San Fran’s mighty masters of psychedelic grooves. You can take your pick of any number of fine flavors, from the album-opening “Loose Lips” (just when you think the sound has gone totally ape and out of their hands, the Shjips manipulate it just enough to let you know they have it all under control) to the closer “Outta My Head” (a good-timey fun freakout for the entire family!).

Here we have a wild-ass cover of Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues,” with the Shjips showing off their bloodsucking-bluesmen souls. Ol’ Neil would be proud. And over here (watch out you don’t get any of that Martian mustard on your skin – it burns) we find “Contact,”eight minutes and 23 seconds of killer bass and drums woven around THE WORLD’S BIGGEST TAMBOURINE (I’m pretty sure) and dollops of fried lobe scramble.

Who knew the Shjips could be sexy? Uh-huh. Check out the slowly-escalating pulse of “Start to Dreaming” (laid-back/stripped-down eventually builds to intense and sweaty) or the slinkiness of “I Hear the Vibrations” (cool/not creepy Doors).

And for anyone who has any doubts of the Shijpsters’ ability to pull it off live and without a net, there’s “Death’s Not Your Friend” – The Velvet Underground crashes face-first into ? & The Mysterians. Nash Whalen’s keys growl and wail atop the chugging rhythm bed laid down by drummer Omar Ahsanuddin and bassist Dusty Jermier. Nobody ever accused vocalist/guitarist Ripley Johnson of writing singalongs – vocals are just another thread in the texture of sound, as are his gales of guitar squall. Overall, Vol. 2 is very fulfilling and satisfying. It’s a fine place for newcomers to the world of Wooden Shjips to start – and a tasty mix for psych veterans.

In the meantime, don’t be thinking that guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson’s Moon Duo project is “Shjips Lite” – oh, no. Johnson and co-conspirator Sanae Yamada (keyboards) are the White Stripes/Black Keys of the psych world. The two of them are perfectly capable of filling your brainbelly with their sound.

Moon Duo’s newly-released Escape EP features four tracks that firmly establish the sound of the band while visiting totally different planets: “Stumbling 22nd Street” (midnight-reverbed vocals do a snakedance with a downright spooky keyboard riff) sounds like a lost cut from a British Invasion band that was too weird and cool to be on Hullabaloo. “In The Trees” offers up a slow churn/slow burn sprinkled with essence of Poe. “Motorcycle, I Love You”, may or may not be an ode to a two-wheeled beast, but once the Duo pulls away from the verses and lets the thing bellow, you’re going to want to hang on. The jam roars its way from major to minor modes effortlessly, leaning into the switchbacks and letting it roll on the long straights.

Which is all hellish fun, but be ready for the journey of the title track. “Escape” is built around the rhythm of your butt slapping bareback on a camel trotting across a desert. (No, I haven’t ridden one myself – I just know these things.) The keys whoosh and spiral like a sirocco blowing through a shape-shifter funnel while Johnson lets loose with a Afro-Celt-alien-flavored lead that sounds like it’s being played on an instrument that’s a cross between an old Gibson SG and a sitar. The sound rolls and tumbles and swirls around you, managing to stay just beyond your grasp. Eventually, you learn to stop trying to touch it and just listen.

While Johnson is in the kitchen for both of these psych dishes, each has its own personality and flavor … and, yes – plenty of jam slathered on top.

Remember what the Dormouse said.

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