Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.
Admittedly, I’ve fallen slightly behind! My previous entry saw me take a look at Armenian-American metallers System of a Down, back in March. To make up for not doing a discography in April, I intend to do three between now and the end of June.
This time around I’ve gone for American blues / neo-pysch / stoner rockers All Them Witches.
Background: I have a handful of friends who rave about these guys. On the back of that, I recall checking out the odd track, but little of those tracks past generally enjoying them. After discovering that they are playing Sheffield this July, I sorted tickets for myself and a mate.
– Our Mother Electricity
Heavy / Like A Witch kicks us off with an interesting vocal chant / hum, before giving way to a chilled out bluesy riff. Instantly noticeable is the warm, retro guitar sound. This is a good opener, improved by the introduction of some tasty keyboard work in the back end. The Urn features some guitarwork that reminds me of Hendrix and Skynyrd, whilst the verses are almost pop-y in places. A nifty tune. Bloodhounds is cloeser in style to the opener. It’s fine. Guns display some sleepier sounding vocals, which go hand-in-hand with the chilled vibe from the rest of the band. I really enjoyed the guitar work in this one. Good stuff. Elk.Blood.Heart sees thins slowed right down to begin with. The guitars are scaled back a bit and vocals brought to the forefront more. This dynamic changes gradually over the course of the song, leading to a pretty sweet mini solo. One of the better tracks so far. Until It Unwinds sees the keyboards in a welcome return. Another track that begins quiet and sleepy at the start, but this subtly grows into a nice mid-tempo tune dominated by sort-of-proggy and a sort-of-miniamlistic central riff. In contrast to the previous tracks, Easy is a relatively simple little tune, and one of my favourites. Family Song for the Leaving leans a little more towards melancholy folk and Americana than most, and has a darker temperament. Right Hand closes the standard edition of the debut album. Electric guitars return. Song is decent enough, and the instrumental work towards the end of the song reminds me of Graveyard.
There’s a sort of sombre, melancholy edge to the album, as well as a general vibe of lazy summer days. It’s very appealing and relaxing. Some of their instrumental work reminds me of Graveyard’s more melodic parts. In fact, if you told a group of melancholy folk singers to write songs whilst listening to Graveyard, ZZ Top and a bit of Springsteen, you might just end up with ATW’s sound. As an album, it’s pretty strong without having any tracks that must be replayed. A very enjoyable debut.
Elk.Blood.Heart, The Urn, Until It Unwinds
– Lightning at the Door
The intro to Funeral For a Great Drunken Bird reminds me a little of post-rockers *shels or, more locally, Gilmore Trail. The early guitar has heaps of fuzz. Spoken word lyrics arrive in the final third, enhancing the otherworldly sound that has been buil over the first few minutes. A good start. When God Comes Back features a sort of call-and-response opening between the vocals and crunchy, fuzzy guitars. This is a more straight up stoner rock track, and a step heavier than the stuff on their debut LP. The Marriage of Coyote Women starts quietly, with a simple riff. The mouth organ adds just an extra something a band that already drenches its work in southern rock vibes. Ends up being a really cool blues tune. Swallowed by the Sea starts off like a sort of melancholy folk tune before kicking into a couple of minutes of heavier stoner rock fuzziness. There’s an ever so slight hint of doom here, amongst the methodical riffs. This track feels ever so slightly artificially extended, but I enjoyed it and its randomness. I wasn’t sure about Charles William at first, but it blossoms into a decent stoner rock track. The Death of the Coyote Women sees an up-tempo intro give way to a slower, more deliberate and chilled out tune – albeit with a subtly malevolent vibe. There’s a trippy haziness to the back half of the song that’s quite infectious. Romany Dagger is a pretty good little instrumental that predominatly features a combo of acoustic/southern guitar and fiddle. Mountain is a very deliberately aced song, taking five minutes to steadily build to a one minute finale. That last minute is excellent, and benefits from the build, though I do wonder if the balance should have been closer to four and two, or maybe just extending the track a little to give the closing riffs more time to flourish. Romany Dagger (Remended) see us revisit the previously mentioned intstrumental, though it is tweaked here and there and extended by over a minute. There’s more depth to the sound too, with a slighlty discordant guitar swimming just beneath the folkish surface. Really good. Surface-to-Air- Whistle closes things out. Threatening to be a little more mainstream at first – cowbell alert! – it settles into being a catchy, mid-tempo intrstrumental stoner psych tune, that almost becomes space rock by it’s conclusion.
Overall: A little trippier and more hypnotic than the debut album. It’s also a little narrower in scope, almost like they have decided that bridging the gap between folk, psych and stoner/desert rock is sort of their calling. On a single playthrough I think they are still missing that outright killer classic but, by this point, there’s plenty of material to hold a strong as hell set together.
Best tracks: The Marriage of the Coyote Women, Romany Dagger (Remended), Surface-to-Air Whistle
– Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
Call Me Star sets the scene with a somewhat upbeat sounding acoustic intro. This gives way to a minimalist riff that takes us to the track’s conclusion. A nice intro for what’s to come. El Centro is another track that has pockets of minimalistic repetition. There’s a sence of foreboding that comes and goes throughout the track. One of my favourites across their discography so far. Dirt Preachers sounds more like it’s ‘meant to be a single’. It’s short-ish, catchy and straightforward. Saying that, they sort of subvert this a little in the finale third with a drastic downturn in pace and darkening of the tone, This is Where It Falls Apart flows on smoothly from the previous song. The tempo is slowed right down for the blusier intro. The mouth organ returns! This ends up being a very pleasant dream-like tunes, threatening to venture into post-rock territory in places. Mellowing is a minimalistic acoustic tune that almost acts as a bridge between the songs either side of it. It’s good in it’s own right. Open Passageways is a nice little tune. Instrumental 2 (Welcome to the Caveman Future) is a short bluesy psych rock tune with some funky sound effects. Cool tune. Talisman starts off quite simply, but becomes this catchy full-bodied epic tune. Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters continues straight on. Flirting with the boundaries of post-rock, space rock and psych, this is a fantastic closing track and one of my absolute favourites of theirs.
Overall: The first album where I’ve thought that, not only has the whole album come together without any hitches, but they have some genuinely cracking tunes. This is simply a brilliant, almost longform piece that should be listened to in a single sitting – and listened to many times.
Best tracks: El Centro, Talisman, Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters
– Sleeping Through the War
Bulls starts off pretty chilled and, for around three or so minutes, is almost dream-like and hazy. Around the halfway mark everything kicks in. Decent opener. Don’t Bring Me Coffee is a sort of a blusier, fuzzier take on Nirvana’s flavour of grunge. Quite catchy and could be a grower. Bruce Lee is fairly catchy and a more straight up rock sounding track. I could see it being used live to break up some of their more cerebral tunes. 3-5-7 is a moody and steadily paced track. It’s also a step-up from the past few tunes. Am I Going Up? sees us return to the disciplined riffery that I have taken a liking to. There’s a sort of hypnotic vibe throughout, elevated by a drone-like use of keyboards late on. A good track that I think will get even better on replaying. Alabaster has a sort of jazzier blues intro and quickly becomes quite an interesting proggier psych track. It’s also the best and most interesting track so far. Cowboy Kirk is a song of two halves. It beginning with a sort of free-ish and interpretive but of work, before settling down into familiar bluesy fuzz territory. Though not on a par with Alabaster, this is good stuff. Internet is a downbeat bluesy epic that sort of descends into a low tempo jam. Excellent.
Overall: There’s a grungier vibe to this album (more obvious in the first half than the latter). Whilst I don’t dislike the songs, I think the second half of the album, which veers towards a sort of hybrid sound of their two previous albums, is much the stronger. If the entire album was like the back half, it would threaten to be their best, as opposed to vying for 3rd.
Best tracks: Alabaster, Internet, Am I Going Up?
That wraps up my whistle-stop tour of All Them Witches. I’ve really enjoyed this particular listen through – definitely one of the best.
I think they are at their best when they are chanelling themselves into hypnotic, proggy minimalism, though their forays intro blues and, on the first album at least, folky americana make for a unique sound that oddly feels familiar. I think their grungier stuff shows promise, but probably needs a little work to get it up to the standard of the rest of what they offer. This is a minor criticism though.
As mentioned at the beginning, I’ve gotten slightly behind, so I’ll try and bash through a couple of short discographies in June.