In a mere five years, Nashville’s All Them Witches have the discography of a band well beyond their years – not in terms of output, but by means of musical growth over only four full-length records. “Maturity” is a term that gets thrown around too often when talking about a band’s development, but the four-piece’s latest effort, Sleeping Through the War, seems to warrant such description – especially when reflecting on the relative purity of the group’s first album. The band has come a long way in a short time and have crafted an enigmatic and unpredictable nature, with each release since defying expectations and satisfying with wonderment. That being said, Sleeping Through the War follows suit standing as yet another hallmark for the band, and arguably their most eclectic record to date.
Whereas most bands spend a number of recordings developing a personality or musical language, All Them Witches’ core sound and palette was fleshed out on their debut, Our Mother Electricity. Merging classic Americana with heavy blues and stoner rock, their ambitious blend felt like a mid-career experiment from a road-hardened act rather than an introductory effort. Reminiscent of early-era high-energy The Black Keys and the more laid-back Clutch offerings, All Them Witches evoke a swampy kind of blues and stoner rock, embracing rural American textures like slide guitars and harmonica with a penchant for jammy and progressive structures and heavy riffs. This concoction was expanded upon and essentially perfected by their second record (2013’s Lightning At The Door – if you haven’t heard it, stop reading and fix that now), to the point that this writer had questions about how they could equal the adventurous nature of their Sabbath-ian psych blues. Fortunately, 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker didn’t attempt to go riff-for-riff with their previous work, instead carving a new path with expansive desert rock compositions and psyched-out jams that satisfy the thirst for huge riffs with the medicine of mammoth soundscapes.
It’s appropriate that side A of Sleeping Through the War would defy expectation, displaying a sense of immediacy absent from any of their other works. Opener “Bulls” cues with the warbling of birds, sunny guitar chords, gleaming keys, and a blissful, enchanting female vocal melody – the most peaceful and serene verses in their discography – before getting annihilated by a fuzzed-out and rugged chorus. Seemingly barking in defiance of the current state of things – irony, stubbornness, and avoidance: “Cash in the broken hands / Pockets seen better scores / I built a house like this / I’m sleeping through the war,” the song rolls off into a busy and chaotic uptempo jam for the second half of the track. Keyboardist Allan Van Cleave makes his presence felt with a heavy dose of electronics and keys (a hint at his prominence throughout the record), underlining his crucial role in setting so much of the record’s tone whilst gluing everything together.
Followed by a duo of concise and potent tracks, the band hits an unfamiliar stride with quick hits from a less embellished rock’n’roll attack. “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” feels like a No Code or Yield-era Pearl Jam, with dynamic bursts and a grungy guitar churn. Bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr. even channels a sage Eddie Vedder-like baritone when on hinge, and breaks out into similar wild howls when off it. “Bruce Lee” meshes guitarist Ben McLeod’s chugs with Van Cleave’s organ into a Deep Purple sort of perfection. Robbie Staebler’s drumming pushes the track with cymbal wreckage complementing the wilder moments of the track and smartly cruising when it isn’t at full-throttle, while the rest of the album sees his signature clockwork drumming padded with more interesting and energetic fills than ever before. The brief compositions and sequence gives this pair a distinguished feel, and serves as a crucial point of interest for the record.
“3-5-7” brings back the more familiar heavy blues bounce of records past, with a chorus of gargantuan crashing guitars and layered vocals amidst a desert of boogie with rolling drums, marking a turn in Sleeping Through the War. Side A is rounded out by McLeod’s spacey and delay-laden (and U2-ish?) guitars on “Am I Going Up?”, where the band finds a beautifully hazy groove with a rhythmic echo and swells of synth. This continues over to side B where a similar technique is employed on the kaleidoscopic “Alabaster,” a journey that rallies itself into a noisy stomp and then off into a distant extended jam before crashing back. The final two tracks wrap up with a return to slower tempos, a bit of a wind down to close out. “Cowboy Kirk” feels like a sludgy take on a folk song, vocals drift over giant fuzzy tones that culminate into a massive bounce and eventually spiraling out into solo. Closer “Internet” is a classic blues jam, spellbinding with soulful guitar licks, keys, and harmonica throughout. It’s as if they’re bringing things full circle back to their Our Mother Electricity beginnings.
Sleeping Through the War feels more defined than previous records. There’s a certain character and attitude in these songs that exudes a frankness or honesty, maybe sometimes by means of sarcasm (“Internet”), and these themes are also emphasized in the more straightforward rock approach of some of the tracks. Touching on things less esoteric and abstract, it acknowledges the uncertainty, complexity, and multifaceted nature of things, while making an attempt to find a level, stay grounded, achieve focus. With Sleeping Through the War, it seems as though they have.
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Sleeping Through the War is available now and can be purchased here.