Wooden Shjips - V (Thrill Jockey)

With the formula perfected, the Californian psych outfit maintain the quality on LP number five

Released May 25th, 2018 via Thrill Jockey / By Norman Miller
Wooden Shjips - V (Thrill Jockey) It's been some time since we last heard from seminal US West Coast psych rockers Wooden Shjips – five long years, to be precise, since 2013's Back To Land. So it's a huge welcome for this seven-track album that seeks to strike an upbeat tone amid circumstances – Stateside at least – that might bring on an air of gloom.

“We had huge forest fires just outside of Portland and there was intense haze and layers of ash in the city. I was sitting on my porch every evening, watching ash fall down like snow, the sky looking like it was on fire. It was an apocalyptic feeling,” said singer/lead guitarist Ripley Johnson in pre-release interviews. “Summer in Portland is usually really chill and beautiful, and we were working on a ‘summer record’ - but the outside world kept intruding on my headspace.”

The quartet – Omar Ahsanuddin (drums), Dusty Jermier (bass) and Nash Whalen (keyboards) alongside Johnson - have always made a rich sound, mixing heavier space rock grooves with Velvet Underground languid cool. And that blend remains on an album that takes its name from the graphic representation of the Peace sign – apt imagery for music intended as balm against the noise and negativity of a Trump-era world.

The Velvets/Lou Reed influences are nowhere stronger than on Already Gone - the latest video taster for the album - which combines a bassy groove with an almost crooned vocal building to a beautifully languid bridge.

The first single from the album - Staring At The Sun - is another standout, stretching to nearly eight minutes of slow-build brilliance from its downbeat drawling opening line (“l was feeling low, staring at the sun”) to find hope amid a beguiling blend of scrunched and swirling guitar.

The opener Eclipse sets the bar on the band's rhythmic power, with a dreamy vocal laid over driving bass and trippy guitar that is contrasted immediately by the slower groove of In The Fall. The heavy-meets-trippy tack works a treat too on Golden Flower, through which Johnson weaves an almost sweet vocal for contrast.

And though it may not be the showiest track here, there's a gently melancholic beauty to the keyboard-and-drums led closer Ride On that gives it as much quiet heft as anything before. Only Red Line fails to quite hit the heights, drifting too closely towards almost synth pop lightness.

Some might see it as some kind of negative that the band sound pretty much as they did on their last outing five years back. But when you sound this good, why not just keep bringing on that reverb-heavy guitar, deep bass grooves, tonal synth and cool vocals?