Years ago while hanging around listening to the legendary San Francisco psychedelic band The Grateful Dead, a friend of mine switched up tapes to put on the Bill Graham Memorial Show from 11-3-1991. The concert featured emotional playing from one of the bands that was closest to Graham, but what stands out in my memory was when my friend casually mentioned, “Now here is John Fogerty playing a bugzapper!” Just then Fogerty plugged in and started strumming on what did indeed sound like an electrified insect killing machine.
Now another tripped out San Francisco group gets that same buzzing guitar sound and rides it all the way into the ground, as Wooden Shjips amps up the fuzzy vibrating haze on their newest release West. While there are certainly elements of psychedelia mixed in these San Fran songsters owe more to the Austin, Texas based Black Angels then they do to any of those past Golden Gate Park acts mentioned above. The drone is the complete focus here, as guitar riffs and simple beats repeat over and over before splashes of something slightly new change the texture of a track.
“Home” works well with that “bug-zapping” guitar tone setting everything up while eerie vocals float around until the song hits a crisscrossing outro section that soars via a wah-wah guitar at the 4:25 mark. Other highlights are “Flight” which incorporates organ swells and maracas, setting the scene for smoky late night freak-out with the ghost of Brian Jones while “Lazy Bones” picks up the pace becoming the most urgent offering with its retro shimmying and twisted echoes.
“Looking Out” tries out a surf/garage feel but doesn’t do a whole lot of anything and in the end that is what holds the full album back, there is not a ton of variety or adventure for a band that swims in these mind warping waters. The tone and feel draw you in but the final product doesn’t do much to stick around when the disk ends; unfortunately West is more numbing instead of expanding.