Day-Glo Drone Rock
Guitarist-singer Ripley Johnson of San Francisco's Wooden Shjips told me, after a show in March, that his original idea was a group of "nonmusicians" that would "take music back to the primitive trance of the Velvet Underground with [early drummer] Angus MacLise." That concept fell apart, and it was a good thing. Wooden Shjips — Johnson, organist Nash Whalen, bassist Dusty Jermier and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin — now play a sleek, Day-Glo drone rock, with magnum liftoff. That Velvets pulse is the root motion on Wooden Shjips (Holy Mountain). But there is a bracing, open-air-worship quality in Whalen's long-breath chords and the ecstatic seizure of Johnson's heavily distorted guitar breaks. Brevity suits this band too. The Shjips' first records were a ten-inch EP and a seven-inch 45; they have two new singles on Sub Pop and the band's own label. Wooden Shjips itself is barely vintage-LP length: five tracks, thirty-three minutes. The first song on the album is "We Ask You to Ride." It is foolish to decline.
Love, Reverb and Twang
Tulsa are slightly more earthbound, in that the seven songs on I Was Submerged (Park the Van), the Boston quartet's new record, have actual choruses and bridges. Singer-songwriter Carter Tanton also examines loss and reunion with refreshing bounce. "I'm in love for the first time," Tanton crows in "I Feel Great," with no apparent irony. "It feels great/Thanks for asking." But his indie-seraphim voice is not of this world — set in the same alpine reverb where Jim James of My Morning Jacket lives — while the iridescent bloom of the guitars is a quality flashback to the clean-twang and country-fuzz blend of the 1968-69 Byrds.
This spring, the New York band Your 33 Black Angels quietly released one of this year's treasures: Lonely Street (no label), in a numbered vinyl-only edition of 250 (I've got number nineteen). The LP is worth the hunt for its pop-wise rattle (Pavement with a case of the Strokes) and singer Josh Westfal's resemblance, in dry, frank voice and cautious optimism, to another local institution: Lou Reed on the Velvet Underground's fourth album, Loaded.