Monday, August 9, 2010

The Drone Zone: Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo

Breathing. Blinking. Heartbeats. Sleep. Eating. Day. Night. Seasons. Tides. Years. From the micro- to the macrocosm, life is measured in increments of repeated, repeating, and repetitious natural phenomena. What seems linear is actually cyclical, only we cannot always see the horizon. The calm and inevitability of basic, natural repetitions are echoed (another repetition!) in music, where rhythms pound out and underline the boom-boom-boom-boom of life, as if our heavy protons and neutrons, like infinitesimally small DJs, spin electrons to keep up the cosmic groove. Okay, so I have been watching a lot of late-night science programming, but I do think there is something innate in the human love of rhythmic sound; there may be some wild souls out there who listen exclusively to atonal and arrhythmic free jazz, but such persistent, dogged contrarianism is itself pretty rhythmic, theoretically speaking.

There is a particular type of droning music which has risen from (I posit) the resounding echoes of the Big Bang, a type of music which focuses on mid-range frequencies that envelop the chest cavity and viscera. It's not really dance music, as dance musics have other bullseyes: the basslines of funk and disco aim for feet and booty, and the high pitch frequencies of house/trance/techno aim for the ears, to drown out sorrow and distract the drugged. Drone music employs simple, repetitive rhythms and fuzzy noise, the combination of which is more likely to inspire contemplation and reflection than fist-pumping. It can be quite boring, if you're not in the mood, or need short-form entertainment. But if you feel like plunging into a meditative river of sound, certain bands have been trying to recapture this elemental rhythm, to harness its energy, and to renew, reuse, and recycle sound (sound is energy, after all, and hence recyclable).

San Francisco's Wooden Shjips combine the tools of the 60s psychedelic garage band (loud distorted guitars, spooky organ, vocals slurred and rhythm section low in the mix) with the past four decades of drone science. So while their name nods at the spirits of David Crosby and Paul Kantner, their music just as often evokes the innovations of 70s European space-rock like Neu! and New York electronic pioneers like Silver Apples and Suicide, and they excel at what they do.

From their second album, 2009's Dos, here's "For So Long":

Ripley Johnson, the guitarist for Wooden Shjips, also has a side project with Sanae Yamada called Moon Duo, which is sort of a lunar sister band to the noisier, louder more solar Wooden Shjips. Moon Duo is slightly quieter and darker—more goth, basically—though utilizing the same patterns of repetitive guitar patterns, keyboards, and from-the-grave vocals; imagine a Jesus & Mary Chain minus drum machines, or the Stooges' 1st album played by the German electropop band Trio. Excellent drones for heart and soul.

From the 2010 Woodsist Records compilation Welcome Home: Diggin' The Universe, here's "A Little Way Different":

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