I get the feeling that for many of those who grew up rocking in the ’90s there is now a disinclination to rock. I often find myself disinclined to rock, whereas one of the first great attractors given off by music was that it could rock and that I could rock along with it. Nirvana. Punk Rock. Indie Rock. Garage Rock. Rock ‘n Roll. Whatever. Guitars get noisy, drums get banged, voices get stretched and crackle, heads get light, bodies get irrational in motion (or in the case of many an indie rock venue, irrational in the absence of motion) and in such rocking is some sort of ecstasy, or catharsis, or ephemeral thrill, or, at least, satisfaction that couldn’t be had elsewhere. Get your mind blown. Get your rocks off. Get your skull rattled. Get your ass shook. Less cerebral functioning and more viscerality, please.
But then a thought occurred: fuck rocking. It is difficult to rock without mediation. It is sometimes difficult to rock without feeling oneself a rocking cliché among rocking clichés, whether the band is ham-fisted rock cliché, or the cliché of being anti-rock-cliché cliché, or the cliché of being or appearing so careless as to not be aware that there are clichés that are on the board that one has to navigate somehow. It is a problem with other music as well, a problem of now, but growing up in a society bombarded with rock ‘n roll mutations the effect is not quite as oppressive with other music that I like or have liked. It makes me think of Gilles Deleuze writing that, “It is a mistake to think that the painter works on a white surface.” And, “a whole category or things that could be termed clichés already fills the canvas, before the beginning.” I do, I do, I do feel oppressed by all of the clichés that fill and inflate and shape and detain rocking. Gimme shock treatment. Or, a lobotomy. Is that the solution?
But then there are great statements of rocking that I cannot exhaust: Johnny Kidd and the Pirates doing “Shakin’ All Over“; “You Really Got Me”; “Sister Ray”; “Pablo Picasso”; “I Wanna Be Your Dog”; “You’re Gonna Miss Me”…This could be a long and obviously personal list. In a recent review of Laurel Halo’s latest in Wire, Simon Reynolds defines atemporality as “the archaic modernist impulse to ‘push things forward’ blocked by the impasse of ‘which way would that be, then?’” Obviously rock ‘n roll has reinvented itself or been given new names to seemingly clear this impasse any number of times, though what is won time and again is not record sales or polemical points but the creation of an intensity of experience that is not a mediation but something direct, combustible, animal. Does rocking die if the mode of rocking does not progress? Does it just become one more stance to chose among many, a means to other ends? Or is one still able to rock beyond the constraints of oneself?
There is a lot of past-rocking-done-well in the music of Wooden Shjips, who, while not progressing along any trajectory (and not trying, thank Christ), are doing something that allows me to rock in a way that warms me once more to the rocking. Fuzzy, skuzzy, heavy, and, here, on their first record for Thrill Jockey, with a professional studio at hand, giant. The treble is more contained than on previous releases but the fullness of these recordings, especially through the fattened low-end, makes for equally satisfying, if slightly less harrowing, journeying. They do all those rhythmical things that get one shimmying, and are also inclined to spin things off into some tripped-out post-psychedelic swirl over all the riffing and caterwauling. Motorcycles. Long hair. Black. Trips. Feedback. Imperturbable cool faced with unknowable landscapes. Reverb, effects, the seriously buzzed out-there that the predictable repetitious guitar-groove of “Crossing” gives way to. Sometimes this is a psych-rock record that slots well alongside Eternal Tapestry’s also excellent, also released on Thrill Jockey this year, Beyond the 4th Door, another call to rocking that I can actually feel in my chest cavity. “Looking Out” is positively hallucinatory, overcharged with white light; “Black Smoke Rise” begins the record by becoming more and more unhinged, song giving way to spaced abyss.
If I spent a lot more time detailing the experience of the cliché’s on the canvas than in describing how this record plays them to its advantage, that may be because if I could detail why it works for me, I wouldn’t still be able get lost in the mystery at the center of it. There is an attention to sound that makes the whole a lot bigger than the instruments used to make it, and that sound world crossed and recrossed by familiar but inspired guitar solos, always adventurous here without being indulgent, and the zoned crooning of Ripley Johnson, is a big and inviting place to shake, strut, or go pleasantly blank. Repetition is sometimes an antidote to judging things by their commitment to progress along a straight line.
Stream: Wooden Shjips – “Lazy Bones”