RACES, Year Of The Witch
It took me a few listens, I’ll admit it, to get Year Of The Witch, California band RACES’ debut full-length. The first time I threw it on, I mostly shrugged and said, “Next!,” putting something else on after barely a song and a half. Over the next week or three, though, I caught myself coming back to it in the pile and put it back on again as background music, and slowly, by increments, I became firmly ensnared.
Looking back, it’s not hard to see why; the album dwells comfortably in an interesting soft-rock middle ground between The Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, with epic, anthemic arrangements drawn from the former and gentle vocals and instrumentation pulled from the latter, all delivered with a soft, patient, melancholy-yet-hopeful smile. It’s a whole lot of things I like, essentially, all assembled together in a way that at first — as I discovered — doesn’t sound all that different but then reveals itself to be something beyond its pieces.
Beyond the aforementioned influences, I find myself comparing frontman Wade Ryff and his crew — guitarist Garth Herberg, vocalist/percussionist Devon Lee, pianist/vocalist Breanna Wood, bassist/Moogist(?) Oliver Hild, and drummer Lucas Ventura — to Clem Snide. There’s Ryff’s unconventional-yet-endearing, high-pitched vocals, to be sure, with all those rough edges and scratched-up yelps, but it’s also because the band blends rootsy elements into straight-up, almost classic-sounding pop music with effortless ease.
Take a listen to “Song Of Birds,” for one; the song merges alt-country/folk sounds with doo-woop-style pop and a subtle but significant Brit-rock sound (heck, the guitar line made me think I’d accidentally put on The Courteeners’ “What Took You So Long?”), and it does so amazingly well. There’s a lot on Year Of The Witch that’s like that, roaming through a sunlit countryside with music that’s simultaneously electrified and low-key, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.
In terms of high points, beyond “Song Of Birds,” I’ve gotten thoroughly stuck on “Lies,” which starts off bucolic and meandering before the guitars come barging in through the door, rough and belligerent. Right then it morphs into something akin to a Police song (or maybe a less-electronic Reptar?), and the bitter undercurrent of the song starts to manifest itself. Lee and Wood’s sultry, sublime vocals help quite a bit, too, taking center stage themselves on the Eisley-esque “Don’t Be Cruel” but standing behind Ryff’s raggedy voice throughout, like a somber, gorgeous pair of angels.
By the end of the album, I feel like I’ve been treated to some kind of nighttime story-cycle told to children but meant for adults, as well, with all its stately, magical beauty a quiet cover for more serious stuff beneath. In my perfect world, all music would hit me like that.