Wooden Shjips, as it is today, started in 2006. The band self released a 10" and 7" that year and started playing shows shortly thereafter. Prior to 2006, Wooden Shjips was an experiment in primitive and minimalist rock. After it imploded, Ripley Johnson, guitar and vocals, assembled the current lineup of Dusty Jermier on bass, Nash Whalen on organ, and Omar Ahsanuddin on drums. West marks the first time the band recorded in a proper studio, as well as the first time with an engineer (Phil Manley). All previous recordings, either self-released, for Holy Mountain, or Mexican Summer were done more piecemeal in the band's rehearsal studio. West was recorded and mixed in six days at Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco. It was mastered by Sonic Boom at Blanker Unisinn, Brooklyn, with additional mastering by Heba Kadry at the Lodge in New York.
The over riding theme for the album (as indicated by the title) is the American West, and all of the mythology, romanticism, and idealism that it embodies. The band members grew up on the East Coast, so for a long time the history and literature of the West was an abstraction and a fascination for them. Part of the allure of the West, which is part of the myth, is the concept of Manifest Destiny, the vastness, and the possibilities for reinvention, which is not to say that is what each song is specifically about, but it was very much an undercurrent during the songwriting of the album. The artwork also touches on the same theme by using an iconic structure that is both a gateway in a literal and metaphorical sense.
It is easy to see why these would appeal to Wooden Shjips, as their music lends itself to exploration. It is both transformative and transporting, the sum being far greater than it's parts. The steady driving rhythms are the elliptical motion machine driven by the often thick and distorted guitar lines, melodic and boundless. Where they may lead cannot be anticipated but following them is exhilarating. It is all about getting there, the destination, while the experience of getting there is an adventure. It is the guitar lines that guide both the listener and the band on the literal and metaphorical journey into the vastness. The ghostly vocals, obscured by dense layers of instruments surrounding them, are alluring with their airy mystery. This elusive quality further draws the listener in, while they attempt to grasp at their meaning. While indebted to both the psych music of the '60s and mid-'70s, electric Neil Young, and even the induced travels of Spacemen 3, the Wooden Shjips' music is modern and in every way their own. West is an epic journey to the edge and beyond.
After a whirlwind couple of years that saw them handle everything from a video game soundtrack to an opening slot with Tool, SF/DC's kingpins of tongue-in-cheek synth-rock are back with their 9th album, Thing, on Thrill Jockey. On it, "you get your sci-fi post-rock like 'Space Dock,' which would fit neatly on the Tron soundtrack, and 'Naked Singularity,' which is like the Knight Rider theme turned inside out and remixed with heavy metal drums. For a band that never seemed to take itself all that seriously, the aesthetic decisions Trans Am made ages ago fit with remarkably well with what's going on in music now. The nods to funk, the krautrock rhythms, the hints of electro, the occasional glitch in the beat-- all are just part of indie rock these days. There are times when Trans Am does it better than anyone-- fractured and funky "Arcadia", with its storm of delayed guitar set against locked-in drums and sequencer, is a good example, while "Interstellar Drift" does something similar, only with an insistent motorik bass and drum pulse. ... it's great to hear them again, doing what they do best." --Pitchfork
Brooklyn based Liturgy is Hunter Hunt Hendrix, Greg Fox, Tyler Dusenbury, and Bernard Gann. Aesthethica, their second album and third release, shows the band exploring, in greater depth, themes initially touched on by their critically acclaimed debut album, Renihilation. The band used every instrument, literal or figurative, to produce meaning and intensity, disregarding the genre boundaries of black metal, hardcore and experimental music.
On Renihilation, Liturgy made use of simple song structures, and concentrated on sustaining a blindingly high intensity level from start to finish. Aesthethica, a more controlled and polyvalent effort, finds the band operating at multiple levels and using more varied forms. The music is both elaborately crafted and chaotically performed. Songs often begin in the form of a simple chant or hypnotic abstraction, then evolve into something dense and complex. A constant sensitivity to the states of attention that different musical patterns activate and foster, yields a paradoxical result: the more complex the music, the simpler the message. Cycling through the fundamental modes of being: stasis, chaos, repetition and entelechy, Aesthethica is a metaphorical exercise in affirmation.
The record is a unified whole. A major concern, sonically and lyrically, is the question of what it is to be meaningful, and how intensity relates to emotion or affect. Many of the songs activate and manipulate cliches relating to heroism, tragedy, hope, and so on by connecting black metal techniques to the spirit of film score writing (Vangelis, Badalamenti) and post-Romanticism (Scriabin, Sibelius). "High Gold" presents a vision of apocalypse, "Harmonia" presents a judgment on the meaning of life, and so on. The resulting collection of songs, at once, embodies and transcends these tropes. The music is supersaturated with lofty melodies and lyrics, bursting with frenzied execution, and builds to a boiling point of chaos, distorting all meaning and distilling to reveal the raw core of pure sonic joy. Liturgy surrounds these fractured islands of meaning with a sea of a-signifying ritual repetition and sound (Branca, Sleep, Lightning Bolt). Tear at the seams of the straitjacket of ordinary life, release the energy from the field of potentiality that it binds, enter the realm of the good and the beautiful, so commands Aesthethica.
Highly technical musicianship, poetico-mystical gesturing, and a minimal directness; all singular elements, whose interactions and reactions are contained in and bursting from a black metal framework. Revelatory contrasts presented in an intensely physical performance whose energy is palpable and whose abatement is as illuminating as its arrival.
John Colpitts (aka Kid Millions) is a Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and writer who is perhaps best known as the drummer for Oneida. Man Forever, his vehicle for exploring the outer limits of drum performance, was created to overwhelm, to investigate the nuances that bloom in the midst of repetitive music, and to act as a pure sound experience.
Originally based on the idea of creating a sort of punk-infused Metal Machine Music for drums, Man Forever has evolved from a five or six full drum set ensemble to something a lot more stripped down. Based on two drummers playing single stroke rolls on a single drum and the patterns that emerge from that, Pansophical Cataract is propulsive without a pulse. Patterns evolve and burst through the static surface of the material, much of which was produced by electric instruments, though "Ur Eternity" remains mostly drums with only a few bass tracks making an appearance. The sounds created by these instruments were based on the drones that Colpitts hears when he is practicing (the not fully conscious singing or humming that arises when one practices alone), and then augmented and enhanced by the other musicians on the record. The repetitive rolls create a phasing effect, a music in and of itself, and the dynamic shifts that occur when the other instruments enter become not mere notes, but grand events.
In the live environment, these shifts and phasing effects, are amplified through sheer volume and duration. "Surface Patterns" and "Ur Eternity" are 30 and 40 minutes respectively (though have been shortened to around 18 minutes per side on record), creating an even more dramatic effect. Past performances have included Brian Chase (Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs), James McNew (Yo La Tengo), Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend), Richard Hoffman (Sightings), Shahin Motia (Oneida, Ex Models), Sarah Richardson (Creeping Nobodies), Ryan Sawyer (Stars Like Fleas), Greg Fox (Liturgy, Guardian Alien), Christopher Weingarten (Parts and Labor), and many others.
Pansophical Cataract can be likened to watching Niagara Falls. You can't expect to see every drop of water that crests over the ridge, but you are overwhelmed with the shear scale of the thing, and therein lies the aspiration for this record. Dive right in.