Portland’s Wooden Shjips challenge a turbulent world with hypnotic, inward grooves | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Portland’s Wooden Shjips challenge a turbulent world with hypnotic, inward grooves


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Ripley Johnson has said his Portland quartet Wooden Shjips made its latest album, V. (Thrill Jockey), under a cloud—figuratively and literally. His band was still grappling with the initial implications of the Trump presidency while ash from forest fires that engulfed much of the countryside surrounding his hometown rained down and cast a fog over the city. The album cover features a giant hand making the peace sign—a colorless yet triumphant symbol within a vivid jungle of psychedelic sci-fi trees and stones—and in the press materials he’s asserted that the mesmerizing grooves of the music were intended as an act of resistance to the tumult of both the national political climate and their physical surroundings. As usual the rhythm section of drummer Omar Ahsanuddin and bassist Dusty Jermier carves out sprawling, stuttering grooves that seem to extend toward infinity, while Johnson’s guitar lines alternate between creeping, fuzzed-out riffs and exploratory improvisations that enhance the liquid grace of Nash Whalen’s floating keyboard parts. There are moments of sunny joy, such as the chill, head-nodding pleasure of “Already Gone,” and the specter of Spacemen 3 hovers over the proceedings, casting a hydroplaning, druggy haze that never allows the music to get tangled up in chaos or anger. Instead, it just unravels with endless patience that is complemented by Johnson’s conversational, half-buried singing. V. was mixed by Chicagoan Cooper Crain—whose Bitchin Bajas bandmate Rob Frye blows simpatico tenor saxophone lines on album opener “Eclipse” in a heady, but restrained dialogue with Johnson’s guitar—and he gives the songs a sleek, stripped-down grace and brings clarity to music that could easily drown in its own murk.   v

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