Posts Tagged ‘Ripley Johnson’

Rose City Band

I premiered the first cut off of this killer a while back, but the week has finally come for the whole platter to land in our collective laps. The record, a slight sideline from Ripley Johnson’s duties at the helm of more than a few psych stalwarts, takes the mellow mantras of Moon Duo, strips away the motorik keys and beds down in a lush dusting of Cosmic Americana. Its that lushness that sets this record apart from the new crop of cosmic country crawlers these days. There’s a creamy brush of twang and a slow motion choogle ripplin’ through the ramble, but over the top Ripley’s keeping his croons echoing around a humid hothouse and it lays the album way way back into the pocket of blissed sunset sounds. Likewise the guitars more often that not achieve a particularly wet swelter that’s sweats from the strings, quenching dry country rollick.

It’s a bit of a detour from the Little Feat / Dead dichotomy that’s cropped up of late, but don’t you fret, Rose City Band are as locked into the endless euphoria of the eternal jam as any of their contempos. Once the record rolls ‘round to the mind melt of “Fear Song,” you know you’re home. The album’s at its most serene when it locks into a melted swoon, with the kind of liquid lysergic guitar that’s always been Rip’s specialty bouncing off the country strut in perfect balance. There’s a genuine feeling that this record has been lost in the stacks just waiting to be found by the right set of ears, a nod to the harder to pick up country-psych melters like Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, KAK, or Curt Newbury. Where Rose City swerves expectations, though, is by boiling those belters down with an ear towards heavier progression, recalling the latter half of Can’s “Spray” if those guys came up in Laurel Canyon.

Its an almost overwhelming year for music, with necessary releases popping up faster than any sane listener can grab them, but this is highly recommended for pickup. The record’s a psychedelic crossroads that’s not being traversed as much these days, and as usual Johnson’s created a record that’s absorbing as its own little world. Once this hits the turntable you’re set to repeat endlessly until the leaves give out and the skies are parched once again of that pristine pearl blue. Rose City Band is the calm center of your summer.




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Rose City Band – “Rip City”

Got a great gift to the psych-folk feeder today with the first offering from Rose City Band. The first single slides in on an autumnal glow of golden shivers, slow-motion choogle, honeyed hues, and cedar swoons. “Rip City” plays right into the hands of the Cosmic American cavalcade that’s building steam in all the best nooks and nodes across the tattered tableau of 2018-2019 – a sound I can’t quite get enough of these days. The album’s produced by Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo) and mixed by Chris Cohen. It’ll serve as the first LP release on Johnson and Sanae Yamada’s Jean Sandwich imprint, who describe the LP as “finding its niche in the hazy sonic landscape of private press country and psych records, and alongside artists like Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, Kenny Knight, and countless other explorers of the pastoral underground.” While the rest of the details on the band remain locked and lean, the astute among you might recognize the voice floating above the amber ether here and crack a knowing smile.

The band offers a bit more insight into the roots of “Rip City,” in particular, noting that it’s “about trying to find peace (and maybe salvation) in a song, or more specifically in a sound. It’s about feeling melancholy and being OK with that. Looking out on a rainy day and just soaking in the dark and beautiful aspects of nature; maybe turning that into some kind of inspiration.” The record is out May 24th. First pressing is limited to 300 colored and 700 black vinyl LPs. Colored vinyl is available for pre-order exclusively from the band’s Bandcamp page.



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Wooden Shjips

With certain types of recreational drug use, or even meditation for that matter, there’s a point when the subject becomes detached from their current surroundings – a shift in time, an outside looking in feeling of calm introspection that lets slip the boundaries of pressing matters. In this stasis, somewhere between numbness and bliss, exists V the latest record from Wooden Shjips. The band seems to toss around that this is their “summer record” and to be sure there’s plenty here that compliments the staunch humid nights of mid-August swelter – Ripley Johnson’s guitars dripping through layers of wet reverb like condensation down a can, tempos slowed to a molten crawl, and bass that can’t be contained by rolled tight windows. More than merely a seasonal accoutrement, though, this record is a balm, a respite, a state of mind – or in the spirit of summer – a vacation from the current mudslide of daily life that threatens to consume us all.

With V the band has softened the focus on its trademark sounds – the fat, motorik rhythm section that slaps like waves against the breakwater, the sunlight suffused guitars that sparkle and ripple in equal measures and Johnson’s vocals that billow and diffuse in a cloud of vapor overhead. The enveloping warmth of this particular iteration of the band has added a few new moving parts as well. Are those strums peeking out of the haze on “Already Gone?” Were there always this many slinking keys in the Shjips’ universe? The vacation vibes bring on a prog haze that holds over from the lighter half of Moon Duo’s last experiment in duality and it feels like a missing puzzle piece found under the couch, perfectly cut to relieve the anxiety that was created in its absence.

Along with Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas) the band has created a perfect headphone record, adding further to the escape hatch mentality of the album. The aforementioned elements dance across the headspace in sketchbook animation while the bass acts as a barrier to the worries, realities, information overload and creeping dread that’s become a constant weight in 2018. For forty-two blissful, nebulous minutes Wooden Shjips let the listener breathe before the waters rise again. Best to gulp in a few last breaths, drop into the airtight bunker b ‘n b of sound and enjoy because those waters show no signs of slowing any time soon.





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Wooden Shjips – “Staring At The Sun”

Looks like this year some perennial faves are cleaning up, with Amen Dunes already ditching any trappings of fuzzed psych for a dose of refined pop drippings, and now the cataclysmic scuzz of Wooden Shjips takes a back seat to languid puddles of guitar laced with strums on their latest. Actual strums on a Shjips track, I think that may be a first, but while the fire may not be the focus on “Staring At The Sun” there’s still plenty of psychedelic drip happening here. Between Moon Duo and Wooden Shjps, Ripley Johnson’s always been able to cull from the “Planet Caravan” school of warbled psych, but here he leans in hard. The guitarists can be heard flecking the track ever so slightly with growls of guitar but generally finds himself in the reclining position, going full Spiritualized to create a track that blossoms with bliss.

I’m all for a band’s evolution so this side of Wooden Shjips comes just as welcome as their clear-cut, Earth-mover gyrations. Interested to see if the full album submerges itself in the same cool waters, but for now this one is hitting very hard.


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Moon Duo

As the sequel, or rather, better half to their Occult Architecture Vol.1 from earlier this year, Vol. 2 acts as the softer side of the band’s motorik psych-punk universe. Where the first volume was steeped in anxiety, tension and darkness; the second volume is by turns blissful, celebratory even. Its still chugging along with a chainsaw grind and lysergic stabs of guitar via Ripley Johnson, but now the tone is relaxed and surprisingly languid. The albums form a duality or a complete picture, but taken on its own merits, Vol. 2 is still pushing into Moon Duo’s best work.

There are strums, I think perhaps a first for Moon Duo, or even Wooden Shjips’ catalog. There are genuine moments of resplendence, flipping the band’s Kosmiche switch from throb to fizz. The pair submerge into a milky bath of sound that’s pulsating with light and love and all the Springtime green feelings that may have eluded their grasp in the pursuit of Krautrock edge in the past. Instead, this is pure dreampop, a silken submergence into ionic bliss that can’t hold back its own giddiness. Sanae Yamada’s synths emerge as a key component here, floating in waves of magenta majesty primed to induce shudders in the listener. As part of the band’s Yin and Yang concept, this fills the bill nicely, but even left to its own devices, it’ll sate your hunger for higher consciousness grind for months to come.




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Moon Duo – “Lost In Light”

Just off the release of the first volume of their Occult Architecture series, Moon Duo announces pt. 2, leading off with a lighter side of their sound. As promised, the second volume strips back the night terrors and dives into the lush, ethereal arm of their recordings, winding up pillowing down into dreampop territory where the first went for nervy Krautrock. The song is a total bliss-out and given the video treatment again by Micah Buzan, who picks up with similar themes from the “Cold Fear” clip and coats Moon Duo’s world in a dizzying array of animation. The first volume was a total killer, so it goes without saying that I’ve got volume 2 high on the anticipation index for the year. Sounding great from the gate.

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Moon Duo

As Moon Duo continues to refine and coalesce their sound, they find themselves achieving a shimmering balance of malice and sweetness. Burrowing deep into an uneasy cocoon of Kosmiche and synth (provided by the band’s master texturist Sanae Yamada); the album buzzes, twitches and festers at times with an uncomfortable darkness that gets its hooks in you. It’s a quality that rears its head most prominently on standout single “Cold Fear” and the sinister “Will Of The Devil.” There’s a feeling of cold sweat, clammy palms and permanently bloodshot anxiety at work here and perhaps these are the feelings that serve this album as the dark-toned Yin in the two part album cycle that the band has embarked on. But if it were that simple, that cut and dry, then it would just grind the listener down under a boot heel of panic.

The album does play with fear and fever, but it breaks the sweat-soaked chaos into a neon lit blitz of speed and freedom. As much as any album of synth lapping Vangelis freaks want so badly to become the soundtrack to your dystopian thrill ride, I feel that Moon Duo might be hitting the vibe more accurately than any of those Korg temple acolytes ever could. The band is splitting the dark corners of Blade Runner with the dazzling imagery onslaught of The 5th Element here. It’s future pop as divined by stark realists with a smirking penchant for leaking optimism and excitement into their formula.

While Yamada is the world builder here, the extravagant paint splashes belong clearly to Ripley Johnson’s guitar work. His playing has always added the psychedelic spring in their motorik grind, but here he’s finding a fluidity that’s like liquid mercury turned to sound waves. Every time Johnson’s guitar surfaces from the frothing deep, it cuts in heated, glowing flashes that turn the world to steam in their wake. The combination of the two forces spins like tumblers in a lock, unleashing the band at an undoubtable peak. Now, one can only hope and wait for what the second piece of this puzzle holds.




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Ripley Johnson on Fabulous Diamonds – Commercial Music

Starting off the new year right with a new edition of Hidden Gems from Ripley Johnson (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips). Hidden Gems explores albums that haven’t gotten their proper due over the years, as picked by RSTB’s favorite artists. Ripley selected Aussie psych duo Fabulous Diamonds’ third album Commercial Music, which was released by Chapter Music in 2012. Ripley explains why the album is such a slept on treasure and the impact its had on his own music.

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Moon Duo – “Cold Fear”

It’s a good day when there’s news of a Moon Duo album on the horizon. The pair have relocated from San Francisco to Portland and they’re turning seasonally affected mood swings into cold-hearted psych with a motorik heart and plenty of icy atmospheres. The track comes as the first taste of a projected two part album that spins Yin and Yang into counterpart albums of light and dark. “Cold Fear” is, naturally, from the darker half, Occult Architecture, Vol. 1. It’s an itching vein of synth fuzz heavily medicated with the Absinthe cocktail of Ripley’s guitar lines. Hushed and secretive, the vocals add a layer of mystery to this cold-wave killer while the lock-step pulse pushes the blood to a tight boil. The band has always lent itself well to this darker current and they’re at the top of their form with this one. Curious though to see how they temper the lighter side in Vol. 2. Lots to come from Moon Duo in 2017!




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