The Cave Singers
Seattle’s Cave Singers, born in 2007 after the dissolution of Pretty Girls Make Graves, was nourished by Matador during its first two albums Investigation Songs (2007) and Welcome Joy (2009), but has found a new home with Jagjaguwar for their newest, No Witch. The band, comprised of Pete Quirk on vocals, Marty Lund on drums and PGMG’s Derek Fudesco on guitar, took things in a significantly different direction this time around, forgoing a softer sound for rasp, rawness and muscle. Backed by their new label and producer Randall Dunn, who has worked previously with Black Mountain and Sunn O))), No Witch is a tremulous, rainy and brawny treatment and a minor tour de force. Touchingly arranged and acoustic in some parts, scratchy, loud and quick in others, “Smooth sailing” the album isn’t, exactly; choppy, swaying waters, blues and Stones swagger figure throughout, grit and dirt in “Black Leaf” and “Falls,” gospel tides in the latter, as well as in “Haystacks” —No Witch hits a lot of points musically, and hits them all well.
The fiddle of the gentle, harmonic opener “Gifts and the Raft” weaves its way through Quirk’s vocals like a wet dog bounding through laggard pedestrian traffic. Follow-up and standout “Swim Club” shuffles and drags its feet along the precipice of the canyon’s edge: “I’m living like a lonely man/ I’m living in this lonely land/ I’m living in an empty bed/ I’m watching those bars at night.” The trade-off between the delicate melodies of some tracks and the unhinged roughness of others lend both a lot of strength and power, and there’s a great deal of brains behind the growl and poetry hidden in the sneering lyrics. In “Black Leaf,” Quirk even name-checks Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Fudesco’s guitar work is sure-fingered, springy and effective, providing in every track an equally dislocated counterbalance and counter-punch to Quirk’s strangled, often hoarse vocals.
At times the album evokes a dark, country Americana similar to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s one-off gem, Howl. And owing to excellent production by Dunn and remarkable poise and control from the band, almost every track hits the 3-minute to 3-and-a-half minute mark, staying just long enough so as not to wear out its welcome, like the very best sort of friend. Resulting from Lund’s tight percussive style, the faster songs ramble with the speed of a rolling train as on the album’s hinge, “All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts,” where the mandate of the entire record is renewed. That tune then leads into “Clever Creatures,” in which Quirk greasily remarks, accompanying a guitar riff which for an instant recalls the one from Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” “See, when it comes to her/ You just never know/ Except from the kitchen light/ She’s like a candle bright/ Before it switched off/ Back on.”
The vertigo-inducing violins of a ghostly sigh of a tune, “Distant Sures,” hit home toward the album’s close. “Outer Realms” and “Faze Wave” conjure up an Eastern mythos, the distorted guitar filling in for sitar, the latter an opium fever, a Vietnam flashback akin to the kind of material the Black Angels seemingly otherwise have on lockdown nowadays. “I’m not the man I am,” Quirk pleads through the druggy swirl, and the conviction in his tortured voice is enough to preclude any questioning of the obvious contradiction. “Can we agree now?” is asked in the opening track. Sure. Although somewhat a departure from past material, No Witch is a damn fine record.