This year has not been good by any standards, but for those of us who enjoy music’s more melancholic side, there’s at least a reason to give the sad stuff a listen. Just in time for fall—the best season for sad song sessions—All Them Witches have released Nothing as the ideal, reminding listeners that life sucks sometimes, and it’s difficult to even imagine what it will be like when things suck a bit less.
The band’s seventh studio album is a steady mix of gloom and acceptance of said gloom, all set to stoner rock instrumentals that keep the listener on their toes. The nearly 10-minute juggernaut “See You Next Fall” flaunts the album’s technical complexity and combines multiple loops seamlessly, creating an ever-changing melody while still maintaining the minimalist style found throughout the album. The lyrics highlight our current moment with lines like “If all is well / I can not tell.” Near the end of the song, vocalist Charles Michael Parks Jr. sings, “See you next fall / Sick of it all,” succumbing to the state of the world but not aligning with it. With lyrics like these, the song creates a sense of perseverance through sheer willpower in the absence of immediate resolutions. Of course, the lyrics are a bit ambiguous, and Parks probably isn’t referring to the pandemic, but their timely nature nevertheless increases the appeal of the song.
Other songs on the album pick up on this sense of impending dread and spread it across stories less grounded in reality. “The Children of Coyote Woman” recounts one of the founding myths of Rome, with the brothers Romulus and Remus bickering, “Oh if you take mine / If you do that then you’ll never be my brother again.” It’s only lightning from above that stops their fight: “The living god is just a silhouette of a face upon the mountain.” Lines like this position the album’s more mythical songs in reality. If there are real answers to questions—if there is any truth—it’s only temporary. This story, set to one of the more Nashville-inspired blues tracks on the album, creates a song that begs for a live performance.
While the band has definitely made a name for themselves by experimenting with new concepts within stoner rock and blues rock, they aren’t afraid to build upon older ones, either. “Lights Out” takes that stoner rock idea of repeating a single phrase for the entire song and builds upon it in a modulated voice. The “lights out” mantra is repeated, but slowly finds itself becoming the background vocals as the real lyrics of the song pick up, evolving into a melody that is as unpredictable as it is satisfying.
The album is the band’s first without keys, but it’s barely noticeable since the songs have no uncomfortable gaps. The last song on the release, “Rats in Ruin,” clocks in at nine minutes and begins with a gentle guitar intro followed by a minimalist interlude. Then, at the six-minute mark, All Them Witches give the listener the climax that they’ve been building to throughout the album. There’s no changing melody for the listener to keep track of, just smooth guitar riffs and loops creating a sound that only gets better the more you increase volume. The multilayered track is a solid end to the album, giving closure by reminding us what the band is all about: good vibes via good instrumentals.
The trio has consistently blended their Nashville roots with classic rock and a stoner rock outlook in their previous albums without ever tripping over themselves and falling into a rut. This album builds off the others and reminds the listener that there is always going to be unavoidable unpleasantness in life—and it can feel as though it won’t get too much better in the near future. But, at the same time, Nothing as the ideal reminds you that focusing on yourself isn’t a bad way to get through trying times. We all need “Just a small fire / Dark cave to sire” to recuperate, and All Them Witches is letting you borrow theirs for 43 minutes.
Nicolas Perez is an editorial intern at Paste and opinion co-editor for New University. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez_.
Listen to All Them Witches’ 2014 Daytrotter session: