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CD review: Wooden Shjips' Back to Land 

Thrill Jockey; Release date: Nov. 12, 2013

Wooden Shjips, a San Fran/Portland band of minimalist space freaks, combines Velvet Underground's drone with the noise of Ride and quiet, tranquil vocals akin to Mazzy Starr, Morcheeba or, for that matter, Ride. Many compare the band's fuzzed-out guitar jams to Neil Young. Already one of my favorites, Back to Land kicks in where previous album, West, leaves off.

If you don't mind repetition, you get relentless grooves along with a crunchy, layered and highly irresistible soundscape. It's varied enough with rhythms and textures to make listening and grooving a delightful experience. Slower tunes like "These Shadows" and "Everybody Knows," which could have bored listeners, instead are among the most enjoyable efforts. Not Mogwai psychedelic, Wooden Shjips goes for a continual, rock-steady, rhythmic drive rather than Pink Floyd grandiosity. Shjips' typical grooves abound in the title cut, while "Ghouls" channels a Velvet Underground beat with the ghosts of Lou Reed's guitar and John Cale's hypnotic organ.

Vocals are weak, whispery and submerged, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. The crooning adds dreaminess and timelessness to the recording, like an added instrument, rather than more typical warbling or emoting.

Since West, Back to Land has added subtlety and extra textures to the mix. Not that it's a major departure, but it's a less jarring effort that still retains neo-psychedelic spaciness and fuzz. Maybe it's a tad more mellow and trancelike, but maintains the usual lacerating lead guitar, ghostly vocals and droning, atmospheric organ.

These dudes are going for bliss and get damn close. Not a jam band, this second album keeps up Wooden Shjips' previous good work. Entrancing and hypnotic, space trance like this can be gorgeous. Tip: listen on giant speakers.

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