Emotional and dreamy songs are perfectly constructed
If RACES' live set seemed like a bipolar mix of indie rock and dream pop, Year of the Witch proves that the two sides are more tightly aligned than that. In the studio, the intricately assembled parts mesh like a beautiful Chinese puzzle. On the surface, the songs are interesting and engaging, but there are layers of detail to tease out.
The opener, Year of the Child, fits a lot into a brief minute and a half. Lushly orchestrated, the core is based on counterpoint guitar parts supporting ethereal vocals. The song meditatively uses repetition to build its reflective mood. A simple melodic theme starts in the music, but then finds a home in the backing vocals. Later, the melody line is taken up by the steel guitar only to echo a moment later in one of the other guitars. The tonal match between the two instruments is so close, a casual listen might miss the switch. It's a beautiful musical moment.
Their pop sensibility is wedded to rich musical vision. The song progressions are much too involved to fall into simple pop cliches, but RACES avoids the opposite trap of challenging, "difficult listening" music. The down tempo dream pop baseline of Year of the Witch sets a mellow tone, but a repressed intensity is never far. The reverberating, retro guitar sound might punch through the reverie at any time.
On In My Name, the intro is dreamy and weighted with weariness. Ethereal harmonies and simple guitar set the mood. But then it drifts into nightmare with a crash of harsh, spiky guitar and a solid beat. This transition is the heart of the song. Wade Ryff's voice is like felt -- softly smoothed and slightly fuzzy (if not quite raspy) -- like a younger Graham Nash. But his even delivery against the cathartic music reveals his anguish.
Year of the Witch is full of tight songwriting and well crafted arrangements. I love how an album that plays so strongly on emotional levels is layered with cool intellectual detail.
Year of the Witch is due out March 27 on Frenchkiss Records. In the meantime, check out RACES' video for Big Broom, the first single.