All Them Witches – ‘Sleeping Through the War’ (2017)

Lauded for their hybridisation and combination of multiple styles, All Them Witches’ fourth record takes a more conventional approach to the recording process, in contrast to 2015’s ‘Dying Surfer Meets His Maker’ that was recorded almost entirely live in the studio. The result is a more narratively-complete and wholesome sounding album. It’s important to note that ‘Sleeping Through the War’ is a new breed of songcraft for All Them Witches; another standalone chapter in their ever-expansive sonic scope and compositional prowess.

Opener ‘Bulls’ is equal parts beautiful and abrasive; the first half’s shimmering ambience transforms from an evocative dreamscape to a gauntlet of chaos. Charles Michael Parks Jr utters the album’s title throughout, without a doubt mirrored in the split personality of the track.

Largely uncharacteristic for the band, the two tracks that follow are both grungy stompers, each topping out at just over three minutes. ‘Don’t Bring Me Coffee’ carries a certain radio-friendly aesthetic, whilst ‘Bruce Lee’ is similar in structure yet features some manic percussion work from Robby Staebler.

Calling back to the progressive sensibilities of 2014’s ‘Lightning at the Door’, ‘3-5-7’ begins to tiptoe and creep along before Ben McLeod’s wall of guitar bursts in, with Parks Jr’s vocals echoing and reverberating throughout the mix. This cut demonstrates the band’s ability to channel the atmosphere of their origins, and apply it to multi-layered instrumentation.

If ever there was a track that was so tantalisingly teasing to explode into a groove similar to that of ‘Swallowed by the Sea’, ‘Am I Going Up?’ is the winner here. Its pseudo-progressive tone is infinite; McLeod’s intermittent one-chord strums consistently hint at a heavy breakdown, yet it never materialises. Thus once again, the band avoid the reliance on past conventions and continue to evolve without easy prediction.

The off-kilter opening guitar licks of ‘Alabaster’ throw up a considerable contrast to Radiohead’s synthetic ‘The King of Limbs’ era, of which the scattered & stinted stoner rock grooves provide a maximal contrast to the underlying guitar. Staebler dusts off his congas, adding a primal feel to the track whilst working in pleasant tandem with the jangly guitar & bass lines.

Perhaps the most reserved & repetitive cut on the record, ‘Cowboy Kirk’ sees McLeod’s fuzzy, octave refrains replace a traditional vocalised chorus, pitch-climbing to multiple crescendos along with Parks Jr’s bass line. The prominence of this cut could be deliberately understated to pave the way for the simply monstrous closing track.

Cutting in at just under ten minutes, ‘Guess I’ll Go Live on the Internet’ is at heart, a blues jam harkening back to the band’s second record. Allan Van Cleave thrives with his confident piano melodies as Parks Jr’s semi-spoken vocals ooze with soul, delivering his lines with such precision and consideration for the supporting instrumentation. As each of the multiple interludes progress, new layers of instrumentation are added, including fitting guest harmonica from Mickey Raphael.

Simply put, this is All Them Witches’ best work yet. It’s brimming with confidence, band maturity and mastery of their respective roles and instrumentation. It’s wholly apparent that utmost thought goes into the construction of tracks, resulting in deeply dense compositions with highly successful cosmic exploration.

Essential tracks: Bulls // 3-5-7 // Alabaster // Guess I’ll Go Live on the Internet

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