It’s hard to get much more compositionally minimal than San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips. The basic MO: Find a crunchy, Television-style guitar groove and riff on it for upwards of 10 minutes, changing chords only when it’s absolutely necessary. While it’s a formula that’s sublime and hypnotic in concert, it’s a hit-and-miss affair on record. The band betters the odds by putting out a constant stream of material on most every format in use (no Edison cylinders yet, but the night is young).
And now, the reigning kings of rock minimalism have gotten even… uh… minimaler. Stripped down to a two-man lineup of Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada and performing as Moon Duo, they eschew some but not all of the balls-out power-chord grandiosity of their previous work, focusing instead on buried vocals, sinister, Suicide-style atmospherics, and tons and tons and tons of reverb. These two EPs provide ample reason to hope they continue with this side-gig.
Escape is the more immediately solid of the two, starting with the propulsive “Motorcycle, I Love You” and never letting up. If “noise music” distills the ornamental elements of rock and roll (the feedback, screaming, etc.), Escape boils down rock’s essence: crunch, rhythm and aggression. As mentioned, the lyrics are barely audible and don’t interfere with the dark hypnosis.
Killing Time is more raw and mysterious. Beginning with the languid “Ripples,” it picks up speed but remains unapologetically sloppy. Even the fidelity, reminiscent of an old, “underwater” cassette tape, makes it a difficult record to love. But the rewards come regularly, particularly from the old-fashioned-keyboard-driven closer “Dead West,” which could be the theme for a German Batman flick.
Of the two, Escape is the one I’ll be rocking in my car. But I plan to revisit both of these unusually filling EPs, and I look forward to whatever these guys do next, even though it’ll probably be on one of those Chatty Kathy discs.
By Emerson Dameron