All Them Witches
Sleeping Through The War
, March 9th, 2017 14:36
These are parlous days and the time for sitting on the fence is well and truly over. Not least because the longer you’re perched there, the greater the chance of slipping and skewering your all of your most tender parts. And while you’d be a misguided fool to accuse All Them Witches of doing precisely that, the Nashville quartet have, over the course of their previous three albums, displayed a deft ability to straddle the divide between psychedelia and the blues to the consternation of commissioning editors the world over.
The simple truth of the matter is that All Them Witches have displayed a canny ability to cherry pick from either genre as they strive to create something that is uniquely their own. And of course it’s all too easy to dismiss the fields of the blues and psychedelia thanks to the trail of hackneyed slime that’s been left by tedious plankspankers more concerned with the technical aspects of their craft than digging deep within themselves, or the kind of bandwagon jumpers way too in thrall with their effects pedals to actually take the time to say something.
As evidenced by this, their fourth album, All Them Witches have both resolved the balance of their influences while simultaneously having something interesting to say. Moreover, this isn’t blues of the “woke-up-this-morning” variety but one of malaise, anxiety and fear brought on a by world seemingly dead set on destruction; nor is this an escapist variant of psychedelia wherein one form of reality is jettisoned in favour of another for reasons of cheap thrills. This is a frequently exhilarating and multi-layered painting of sound that brings to life the concerns contained herein while effortlessly alternating from all-out sonic barrages to creamily delicate vortices.
All Them Witches’ constant touring is much in evidence in these grooves: these are musicians that understand each other and can bounce ideas around as they bend, stretch and mold their sound. But what’s really interesting here is that, unlike their previous recorded excursions, All Them Witches have elected to change their modus operandi from studio jams to a set of focused ideas. This isn’t to suggest any prior shapelessness on their part per se, but rather a clear vision of exactly where they’re going with this thing.
Opener ‘Bulls’ is as strong a statement as intent as could be expected. A condemnation of the growing insularity caused by endless digital distractions, the song’s sonic palette grows from a whisper to scream as guitarist Ben McCloud shifts his instrument from the pace of a Sunday drive to a full on interstellar overdrive. Bassist-vocalist Charles Michael Parks Jr. locks to a gloriously powerful yet hypnotic groove with drummer Robby Staebler as Allan Van Cleave’s keys explode in multi-coloured swirls.
Similarly, ‘Bruce Lee’ combusts and detonates several times as if to ensure that aural complacency is not option here. It’s worth tipping a hat to producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell et al) who captures these explosions with a fantastic clarity that pretty much take everyone well out of their comfort zone.
What also works in the album’s favour is the sequencing that gives the impression of it being specifically arranged for vinyl. Here are eights songs, four per side, with the first salvo focussed on the band’s sonic power while the second gives greater emphasis to space, echo and a more contemplative mood. Witness the skittering guitars and meditative guitars of ‘Don’t Bring Me Coffee’ that brilliantly displays All Them Witches’ dexterity. Best of all is the near 10-minute closer ‘Internet’. Harnessing classic rock tropes and transposing them to the present, it encapsulates All Them Witches beautifully, a mélange of influences and contemporary statement that smolders before blinding ignition.
Indeed, Sleeping Through The War is a slow burning experience but once that fire is lit then there’s no putting it out. And more to the point, why would you want to? This isn’t the time for complacency; it’s the time to turn the heat up.