All Them Witches

Sleeping Through The War

Written by: AP on 28/09/2017 18:02:41

Having recorded it in a remote cabin in which the band ate, slept, played and probably smoked up, it was no surprise that All Them Witches’ third studio album, “Dying Surfer Meets His Maker”, turned out as a litany of jams, layered up and stitched together to produce the listening equivalent of gazing at the slowly changing scenery on a long road trip. But despite staging a breakthrough of sorts on the back of that record, the Nashville, TN-born heavy psych outfit felt no need to repeat themselves; for this new effort, “Sleeping through the War”, they hired the services of producer Dave Cobb (renowned for bringing out the best in artists such as Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Lake Street Dive), cooped up in a rehearsal space to write the entire thing in just six days, and then spent another six days recording it and spicing it up with all manner of additional instruments like a mellotron.

Obviously, the new approach pays certain dividends; the songs have more structure than on any previous ‘Witches outing, wherefore the album comes across as more focused. On occasion, the four musicians still allow themselves to chase loose ends, as evidenced by the fuzzy and organic second half of the opening track, “Bulls”. But as a rule of thumb, those languid, improvisational jam sessions à la “El Centro” and “Surface-to-Air Whistle” have not made the cut, with the brunt of this new effort instead reflecting the psychedelta blues that the ‘Witches are often said to play. One benefit of embracing this more succinct style is that it exposes a catchier facet of the band, displayed most prominently on the early pairing of “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and “Bruce Lee”, both of which place laid back, baritone vocal melodies in the driving seat to cook up a string of indelible verses. “Am I Going Up?” tickles at the memory synapses, too, but less directly — it weaves together a haunting, plucked melody that seems to echo both forward and backward in such a way that it becomes impossible to tell where one refrain ends and another begins; and sober, melancholy singing rooted in alternative country that much resembles the part of Brett Sparks in The Handsome Family’s excellent single “Far from Any Road”.

By leaning that piece up against the similar, but tonally and atmospherically brighter “Alabaster”, the band creates a sort of yin-yang effect at the turn of the record, which links the moody first half to the more resigned feeling that reigns over the second half nicely. Despite sounding cheerier on this side however, the themes of withdrawal and isolation that bassist/vocalist Michael Parks grapples with during most of the album persist in both “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet”; the difference is that he swaps anxiety for a sense of surrender, crystallised in his closing words: ”If I can’t live here, I guess I’ll go live on the Internet.” But alas, with the exception of the séance-like “Alabaster”, which woos the listener with a wide assortment of freaky effects and percussion instruments throughout its seven minutes of running length, this final stretch of the album, this final stretch of the album has difficult capturing my imagination with the same efficiency as those earlier songs. The hindmost duo is quite light on dynamic variety, which means that instead of pricking the interest of and drawing the listener toward a climax that should be there at the end, “Sleeping through the War” almost ends up flatlining in the finale.

Luckily, a complete deflation is prevented by the elegant middle part in “Internet”, which brings in both touches of harmonica and inspired solo work by guitarist Ben McLeod to enhance its slow crawl through effect laden psychedelia. The album thus ends on a high, if not triumphant note and leaves behind it the impression that All Them Witches have, at last, struck the perfect balance between two vastly different worlds: delta blues and psychedelic rock. Certainly, this comes at the expense of the folksy vibes that made “Dying Surfer…” such a revelation. But when has the co-existence of two very different but equally outstanding records been a reason for complaint?

8

Download: Bulls, Bruce Lee, Am I Going Up?, Alabaster
For the fans of: Colour Haze, The Heavy Eyes, Mondo Drag
Listen: Facebook

Release date 24.02.2017
New West Records

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