Psychedelic foursome Wooden Shjips (yeah, it’s spelled that way; no idea why) sprouted from the San Francisco soil last year with a pair of limited-issue vinyl singles that portended an unambiguously rosy future. Dance California and Shrinking Moon For You, particularly their title cuts, droned with imaginative purpose and heavy attitude, like fiendish updates on Spacemen 3’s reverb-soaked takes on ’70s Krautrock.
It’s somewhat dispiriting, then, that “We Ask You to Ride,” the opening track on the band’s eponymous full-length debut, kicks off the album sounding more like something Austin Powers might have listened to in his day were he an actual person. Nash Whalen’s hypno-organ and Ripley Johnson’s Jim Morrison vocal stylings feel ripped from the psychedelic ’60s, just not the psychedelic ’60s scene left-field listeners had doubtlessly hoped would be revived.
Still, one tune, even of the lead-off variety, does not an entire LP invalidate, and Wooden Shjips is hardly a total write-off. Two of the remaining four songs—“Losin’ Time” and “Lucy’s Ride”—slither like The Stooges buried in quicksand, while the closing pairing—the seven-minute “Blue Sky Bends” and the 10-minute “Shine Like Suns”—demonstrates what the quartet can accomplish when it looks at its feet, takes its time and goes where the vibrations take it. Or to borrow a lyric from their pseudo-namesake, when Wooden Shjips act very free and easy.