All Them Witches: Gray Sabbath

All Them Witches don’t necessarily exhibit their influences on Sleeping Through The War—or any album for that matter

All Them Witches’ press clippings will reveal consistent comparisons to some of the ’70s biggest names as they pertain to ATW’s rumblingly powerful stoner vibe. Frontman Charles Michael Parks takes exception to one reference in particular.

“Black Sabbath is the most misleading, because none of us listens to Black Sabbath,” says Parks. “We must be in the same mindset at some points. I’ve never listened to Blue Cheer, but we all like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, real early Fleetwood Mac and Roy Buchanan. And I would count international folk music as one of my main influences.”

Oddly enough, Parks and drummer Robby Staebler enjoy ambient new age and jazz, while keyboardist Allan Van Cleave grew up exclusively with classical music and didn’t listen to rock until he was 18. That all could figure into ATW’s fourth and most ambitious album, Sleeping Through The War, featuring the band’s epic volume and density interlaced with melodic nuance. Although elements of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra seem to be woven into ATW’s new approach, those are two more bands they haven’t really explored.

“I don’t listen to a lot of music before or during writing,” says Parks. “I have a bad habit of unconsciously reusing ideas without remembering where they came from. Then it’s, ‘Aw, shit, that’s just like that Cream song.’ I like to think everything we come up with is just four idiots in a room making noise.”

One reason for the distinct differences between Sleeping Through The War and ATW’s previous catalog is the Nashville-based quartet’s deliberation in creating it. The grueling touring cycle for 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker included two European circuits, and the band’s new material was largely conceived during the brief hiatus.

“Usually we go into the studio with maybe half the songs done,” says Parks. “This time, we had four days to write. New West has an artist house/venue in Athens, Ga., so we got to stay there, we wrote it, went back to Europe, then we came back and had five days to record. It was good going into the studio knowing where you were going.”

The new album’s sonic shift could also be partially attributed to renowned producer Dave Cobb, who served as ATW’s first actual producer. The process could’ve been traumatic, but Cobb was a perfect fit. “He’s a normal, easy-to-get-along-with guy, and he just knows where things should go,” says Parks. “He works the same way we do, by experimentation, so it was super easy. He likes to make art.”

Sleeping Through The War’s evolution is significant in light of the band’s short history. Then-recent transplant Staebler met guitarist Ben McLeod at a Nashville bar in 2012, then Parks, Staebler’s retail workmate, offered to play bass although he was primarily a guitarist. Van Cleave laid down keys on the first album, returned to tour and joined by default. The foursome’s chemistry is so strong they no longer practice or even hang together; they reassemble to write, record and tour.

Parks concedes the stoner-rock label was once applicable to All Them Witches but attributes their fluidity to his songwriting style. “I have material for two or three songs in my head, but I like to shove them all into one song,” he says. “So it’s an unusable length for radio. Being scatterbrained is how I like to write, and I haven’t found a way to get un-scatterbrained. I like who and where I am, so I don’t need to change yet.”

—Brian Baker

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From The Desk Of Jesca Hoop: “Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind” By Yuval Noah

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements. Hoop will be guest editing all week. Read our feature.

Hoop: This book really perked my brain right up, giving us the broad strokes of human evolution from the far past to the present. He gives us some truly surprising and eye-opening insights into our evolution. Having read this, I now cannot help but see my fellow humans as hairless apes, and it’s all beginning to add up.

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Film At 11: Dirty Bourbon River Show

Dirty Bourbon River Show recently released its 10th studio album, The Flying Magical Circus, and now it’s video time. A whimsical speakeasy sets the scene for the deeply New Orleans-influenced tune; check it out below, and be sure to pick up the LP if you like what you hear and see.

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MP3 At 3PM: Calan

Calan is a Welsh folk band quickly approaching a May 12 release date for new album Solomon. “Apparition” is a fantasy of fiddling and harp, a downright theatrical piece of traditionally stylized folk music with some gorgeous, sparkling moments. Check it out below.

“Apparition” (download):

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Essential New Music: R. Stevie Moore And Jason Falkner’s “Make It Be”

Ever since his departure from Jellyfish at the peak of the band’s brief early-’90s run, Jason Falkner has relished his role as a self-made power-pop iconoclast. R. Stevie Moore’s championing of the DIY recording aesthetic stretches all the way back to the late 1960s, gaining underground momentum during the following decade’s punk explosion. Unlike Falkner, Moore has never been much for restraint, recording more than 400 albums, many of them on handmade cassettes and CD-Rs. For this 18-track collaboration, Falkner wrote just one song—the tunefully sinister “Horror Show”—and co-wrote five others. He curated many of the tunes from Moore’s voluminous, dauntingly diverse catalog. Some were written during the two weeks of recording at Falkner’s Rhetoric studio in Hollywood; a few are snippets of studio banter and (accomplished) instrumental noodling. Fortunately, the whole thing is anchored by moments (“I H8 Ppl,” “Play Myself Some Music,” “Sincero Amore”) when Falkner and Moore sniff out a clever hook and match it with a fully fleshed-out arrangement. As one might surmise, Make It Be casts Falkner as the editor/ringmaster of Moore’s wonky sonic circus—and the results should connect with fans of the former’s innate craftsmanship and the latter’s rampant eclecticism. For the rest of you, it’s about 70 percent wheat and 30 percent chaff.

—Hobart Rowland

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From The Desk Of Jesca Hoop: Thera Cane

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements. Hoop will be guest editing all week. Read our feature.

Hoop: This is an instrument that I take with me when I travel. It’s better than any other self-massaging tool that I have used. If you like to dig in deep, this guy helps get in there and all you need is your own two hands and this hook. I use it to help warm up and down from a show to help loosen the muscle in my neck, throat and shoulders. I don’t leave home without it.

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Live Review, Coachella 2017

One of the laziest journalistic tropes ever is: “This (supersuccessfulthing) isn’t nearly as cool as it was back when it was (underground, lesser-known, hardly a blip back in the day, etc.).”

This is what LCD Soundsystem sent up so effectively with “Losing My Edge” and has been a theme we’ve heard associated with “Chella” over and over again in recent years. It’s a giant financial ecosystem of which music is only a part (in 2016, Coachella sold nearly 200,000 tickets and grossed about $100 million, not to mention all of the tangential revenue generated by sponsors, merchandise sales, concessions, etc.), there’s too much corporate largesse creeping into the picture, the bookings aren’t nearly as edgy as they were, it’s more fashion show and social media mirror than cultural statement, I saw your dad there last year, yadda yadda.

One way to think about Coachella: it’s a festival whose humble beginnings date back to when Pearl Jam was warring with Ticketmaster and booked itself into the Empire Polo Club in 1993, as lighting-oneself-afire an act of anti-careerist stubbornness as has existed in the music industry’s recent history. Another, perhaps more practical way to think about it, is that the festival has become a way for largely niche acts in indie rock, hip hop and various flavors of EDM to reach a broader audience that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to them given present course and speed of their organic development. When you think about artists such as Long Island’s Lemon Twigs, Seattle’s Tacocat or even the legendary Belleville Three (Detroit techno OGs Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson), the kind of affinity they can create with two weekends’ worth of energetic performances might eclipse everything else they’re capable of generating in a typical album/touring cycle. So: Coachella serves a useful purpose (as do other festivals of its type: Pitchfork, SXSW, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, etc.) no matter what the self-proclaimed cool kids may think or how snarky their Tumblr posts may be.

It was with this framing in mind that we packed our rucksacks and caught the party plane down to Palm Springs for this year’s opening weekend. Gloriously bathed in 90-plus degree sunlight, the Empire Polo Club hosts what is no doubt the most thoughtful and, if possible, comfortable long weekend of live music in the U.S.: There is ample space for the crusty campers, backdrops for the Instagrammers, food and drink for all, and if it’s possible to call 330 acres of desert oasis “lush,” these guys have figured out a sensible way to make it so. Therefore, two generations of duBrowa festival attendees took in the three day weekend of with a tacit agreement in place: We would humor each other by attending the other guy’s sets-of-choice to the extent it was logistically possible—your Louis The Child showcase vs. my GBV fix. It’s unclear who got the better of this particular deal, but it made for a fantastic weekend at the musical deli tray under near-perfect conditions, all the same.

Friday split the difference between a typically Angeleno party night and a visit from the touring artists of the Empire. Having opened with the Raspberries-meets-Walker Brothers stylings of Long Island’s Lemon Twigs (a plaid-suited Brian D’Addario jogging crazily around stage like a Faces-era Rod the Mod), we then transitioned to the first of several British acts who killed it with their particular brand of music: London-based grime superstar Stormzy, whose “big man wif a beard,” high-energy 140-BPM rap set the table for everything else that followed. L.A.-based party collective Brownies and Lemonade hosted a showcase EDM set at the LCD-festooned DoLab Stage, with producer Alexander Lewis adding some festive trombone to a series of trap tracks while the duo Louis The Child slayed a packed tent full of Stevie Nicks hippie-chick lookalikes with a sparkling set of future soul. Every festival produces its share of surprises and disappointments—British soul-man Sampha definitively qualified as an unexpected delight, packing in a sweaty tent and filling the VIP area up front (we saw Gwyneth Paltrow, Stormzy, Kevin Abstract and half of his Brockhampton rap collective boogying away) with a crew who came for his Drake hit “4422” but left singing the praises of his virtuoso solo keyboard performance “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano.” Expect huge things from this London-based R&B artist down the line.

As for Australia’s Avalanches—making their first U.S. appearance in 15 years on the back of their 2016 global comeback smasheroo Wildflower—the show proved that their real strength is as a studio creation vs. live act, with a catastrophic rig failure in the middle of “Subways” making for an interesting moment of improv for a band that isn’t really built for that sort of thing. Guided By Voices proved that Bob Pollard and Co. can still come correct with the old-school, serrated-guitar indie rock, their set ranging from brand-new material to songs unearthed from the Bee Thousand era. While Richie Hawtin and DJ Shadow demonstrated that ’90s-era techno and sampledelic hip hop can still summon a passionate audience in 2017.

Without doubt the spotlight act of the day was Radiohead—the band played before a sea of humanity and opened with slower, more contemplative material from A Moon Shaped Pool before suffering through three different sound stoppages, leaving the main stage twice before returning in a much feistier mood, with Thom Yorke changing the band’s setlist seemingly on the spot to troll festival organizers with the much-maligned “Creep,” blaming the various failures on “aliens.” L.A.-based EDM superstar Dillon Francis closed out the evening with a set heavy on moombahton jams, reprising his signature style from about 2013-ish for what appeared to be the largest single audience we’ve ever witnessed at a festival, filling an entire airplane hangar with sweaty, jiving fans who spilled out into the surrounding area with dayglo sticks, humorous hand-cobbled signs and a ridiculous number of “Christmas lights as costumes,” creating an undulating pool of people that washed rippling into the desert night.

If Friday was about new discoveries, then Saturday was devoted to surprise features—meaning, the time-honored tradition of bringing special guests onstage for a social media-amplified star turn. After taking in Mitski’s offbeat, Helium-like charms, the day turned to the half-Interpol/half-Wu emo tangle of Banks + Steelz and the hard, dark beats of French producer Brodinski, whose 90s-inspired techno would have been perfect in the midnight time slot (as it was, he packed the hangar-like Sahara venue full of writhing sparkle-face-paint kids). Portland’s Car Seat Headrest held to the indie-standard party line—guitars, attitude, skinny suit in a pastel color, more guitars—and then the parade of features began, with Angeleno six-string bass jazzbo Thundercat weaving his magic for an overflowing crowd before bringing out yacht-rock hero Michael McDonald (yes, that one, the silver-topped, golden-throated Doobie Brother) for a trio of beautifully ’70s-touched Fender Rhodes numbers that brought the house down when the familiar strains of “What A Fool Believes” wafted into the air.

British producer Mura Masa then proceeded to make a virtue out of his rotating backstage holding pen, with Desiigner, Charli XCX and finally A$AP Rocky all hitting the stage for their respective radio hits, which sent bodies overhead (Desiigner crowd-surfing his way into the front rows, and various kids in their desert finery passed back over the barrier in return) and produced probably the single best set of the day—dude is not only the owner of a golden set of ears, he can multitask with the best of ’em (keyboards, guitar, drums). Atlanta’s Future played to an ocean of fans before bringing out Ty Dolla Sign and then Drake out to close his evening set; while not to be outdone, fellow ATL resident Gucci Mane coaxed an appearance from hot-rap-kid-of-the-moment Lil Yachty and performed “Black Beatles” with guests Rae Sremmurd to wrap up his Coachella timeslot. Canadian rapper/producer Nav marked an otherwise low-key performance by inviting prior-night-headliner Travis Scott and the Weeknd to the stage, while French producer DJ Snake brought Migos to the stage for their ubiquitous radio anthem “Bad And Boujee,” then dropped the jaws of about half of the night’s attendees by conjuring the notoriously fickle Ms. Lauren Hill for a series of Fugees tracks (“Ready Or Not,” “Killing Me Softly”) before wrapping her cameo turn with a spin on her solo classic, “Lost Ones.” The night wrapped with Lady Gaga’s insanely produced and highly calibrated replacement slot for Beyonce (who bowed out months ago after announcing that she was expecting twins; Gaga returned the favor by dropping a surprise single, “The Cure,” just as she left the stage), and a fantastic, sunny-day-disco nightcap from L.A. production duo Classixx, whose admixture of electro, indie pop and straight-up ’70s dance music leaned heavily toward Disclosure territory and would have made the perfect soundtrack for Brodinski’s mid-day slot. All told—a day full of other people’s talents attached to a series of sets that were perfect for the 95-degree heat that baked the valley.

Our flight back to Seattle left early evening Sunday, so in an abbreviated day, we managed to catch the perfect Sunday comedown set from EDM producer/DJ Chet Porter, an experimental guitarfest from ragged-but-right Aussie indie-rockers Pond, a high-energy show from London grime artist Skepta that brought the house down, backed by a ridiculously bouncing set of pure party hip-hop from Lil Uzi Vert before wrapping up our weekend with a rare side-by-side-by-side performance from the aforementioned Belleville Three (unfortunately missing evening sets from OC OG punks TSOL, New Jersey indie-pop craftsmen Real Estate, a reimagined New Order, and rapper-of-a-generation Kendrick Lamar, whose amazing new full-length Damn will no doubt appear on many year-end lists) before heading back to civilization. We literally saw a little bit of everything over the course of three days: ferris wheels and freestyling, fairground food and fiery funk, famous features and FOMO-inducing moments of pure “you had to be there” magic. We see you, Coachella. And we promise we’ll be back to do it all again next year.

—Corey duBrowa and Tanner duBrowa

More photos after the jump.

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Ibibio Sound Machine: The Sound Of African Sunshine

Ibibio Sound Machine makes West African music with a London bent

When singer Eno Williams began collaborating with sax player Max Grunhard, they weren’t thinking about putting a band together. “Max was interested in using the Ibibio language in a musical project, so we started writing stuff in my bedroom,” says Williams. “He knew the other band members from playing around London. We all started exchanging ideas and didn’t even think about performing until we’d made our first album. One of our first gigs was at the Trans Musicales festival in Rennes, which was equally scary and exciting.”

Williams was born in London but grew up in Nigeria, steeped in the culture of the Ibibio people. She didn’t return to England until she was 19. “In Nigeria, I had a musical group with my six sisters,” says Williams. “We used to play in church, but that faded away. It wasn’t until I came back to London and met Max that I started taking music seriously.”

On its eponymous debut, Ibibio Sound Machine pioneered a blend of electronic beats and West African rhythms. “Our first album was a more retro-influenced, West African-sounding record, with a few electro experiments,” she says. “For the second record, we went further in that direction, while still keeping loads of live elements.”

Uyai (Merge), the band’s new album, is a polyrhythmic barrage that combines drum loops, the live percussion of Anselmo Netto and drummer Jose Joyette and the soul-stirring vocals Williams delivers in Ibibio. The music is a perfect marriage of modern urban grit and traditional African sunshine.

“There aren’t many cities in the world where people from such disparate backgrounds could come together,” she says. “We have members from Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Australia, Brazil and England. The city lends its character to the music as well. The dark, imposing vibe of London couldn’t be more different from somewhere like Lagos, the Nigerian city I grew up in.”

—j. poet

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From The Desk Of Jesca Hoop: Nori

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements. Hoop will be guest editing all week. Read our feature.

Hoop: Nori is a food that I keep as a staple and to more dishes than I can count, especially salads. Toast the nori (or not), tear it to pieces and add it to literally any salad for heightened deliciousness and texture. It’s crispy in some cases and chewy in others. Nori is a great way to get added minerals into your diet, and it’s just yummy.

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Essential New Music: Grails’ “Chalice Hymnal”

Grails may be chief executive bigwigs on the psych-rock scene, but they’re also the reverse supergroup that’s provided members to wildly disparate outfits as experimental dance duo Lilacs & Champagne, metal’s kaleidoscopic journeymen OM, krautrock/Slint worshippers Watter, among others. All the extracurricular activity since their last album, 2011’s Deep Politics, has apparently seeped into Chalice Hymnal as evidenced by its numerous slow-motion hairpin turns. “New Prague” sounds like a classic Praxis outtake, the title track veers into soundtrack/synth-wave territory, “Deep Snow II” reeks of spaghetti and Westerns, “Rebecca” is Marconi Union-esque new age, and “Empty Chamber” sounds like the background ambience to a Kendrick or Kanye track. Grails’ tackling of a wide variety of genres is executed with confidence and competence, which means that the listener’s enjoyment/acceptance of their sixth album is likely to be based on the expansiveness of their personal palate for sonic enjoyment.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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