Concerts and Shows at The Magic Bag
All Them Witches with Plague Vendor
Wednesday, March 13 - Doors 8pm - $15 adv.
By most fifth LPs, the band's sound is pretty set. Parameters established. Refinement dissipated. You get a to-formula execution of what's worked in the past. Fair enough. All Them Witches go a harder route.
In 2017, the Nashville four-piece offered what might've otherwise become their own template in their fourth album (second for New West), Sleeping Through the War. It brought a larger production value thanks to oversight from producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Shooter Jennings, etc.), found them using choral vocals, expanded arrangements, bigger sounds than anything they'd done before.
They could've easily fallen into a pattern of watered-down clones of that record. Easily.
So naturally in a year they've thrown it all to the Appalachian wind, turned the process completely on its head and gone the other way: recording in a cabin in Kingston Springs, about 20 miles outside of Nashville on I-40, with guitarist Ben McLeod at the helm. Self-produced. Take that, expectation.
The result, mixed by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith, Kurt Vile), is the most intimate, human-sounding album All Them Witches have recorded and another redefinition of who they are as a band. Introducing keyboardist/percussionist Jonathan Draper to the fold with McLeod, bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler, All Them Witches' ATW isn't self-titled by mistake.
It's the band confirming and continuing to develop their approach, in the devil's boogie of "Fishbelly 86 Onions," the organ-laced groove and masterful flow of "Half-Tongue," the build of "HJTC" and the fluid jam in closer "Rob's Dream." You can hear it in the mellow patience of that last track, never lost but always wandering, and in "1st vs. 2nd," where they turn from a frenetic shake to some purposefully metal-ish riffing while still holding onto gut-tightening tension.
And what do they do with that? Some overblown payoff? Hell no. They cut it short, drift into noise and then dig into "Half-Tongue" ahead of the moodier "Diamond," which, true to its name, seems to turn any light that touches it into a prism. This is a band who delight in the exploration, in finding new rules to break, and in continually learning new ways to do so.
ATW is a reaction to being a "bigger" act. To playing bigger shows, bigger tours, etc. From the sustained consonants in Parks' vocals, to the sleek basslines that play off the can't-sit-still-won't-sit-still swing in Staebler's drums, to McLeod's commanding slide in "Workhorse" and drifting melancholy at the outset of "Harvest Feast," ATW is their laying claim to the essential facets of their identity.
And most crucial to that identity is its shifting nature. All Them Witches didn't get to this point by resting on laurels, and if anything, the urgency of these tracks – fast pushers and sleepy jams alike – is among their greatest strengths.
It's a rawer delivery, as stage-ready as the band itself, and it captures All Them Witches in this moment. Is ATW who they'll be tomorrow? Who the hell knows? Check back in and we'll find out together. That's the whole idea.
Time as a band breeds experience, yielding commitment to a cause and cementing a career path. This is something Plague Vendor has learned. The foursome, who emerged from a practice space in Whittier, CA in 2009, started by playing endless live shows around Southern California, filling everywhere from backyard parties to clubs to festivals with their raucous, formidable music. At the heart of every show, no matter the venue, was sincere energy and spirit, always resulting in a snarling, frenetic performance. The shows stacked up, accumulating every year, and eventually birthed Plague Vendor's 2014 debut album Free To Eat, a dark, thrashing collection that clocked in at less than twenty minutes.
But the album, brash and aptly terse, was just an appetizer to the main course. The band's sophomore effort, BLOODSWEAT, vastly expands on the sonic territory explored in their debut. Recorded over the course of two weeks in April of 2015 with producer and engineer Stuart Sikes (The Walkmen, Cat Power, Modest Mouse), the album takes a natural approach to Plague Vendor's music. The musicians aimed to capture each track in as few takes as possible, avoiding many overdubs and embracing the same minimal production they bring to their live performances. Nearly all of the eleven songs on BLOODSWEAT were heavily road-tested, imagined and re-imagined live before ever making it into the studio.
From opening number "Anchor To Ankles" to closer "Got It Bad," BLOODSWEAT reveals a purposeful narrative arc, taking the listener through songs that veer rapidly from aggressive thrash to melodic introspection. Together, the songs recount the last few years of the musicians' lives, revealing the sacrifices they've made and the dedication they've embraced to become the band they've become. "Jezebel," the disc's flagship single, exemplifies the style Plague Vendor has dubbed "voodoo punk" a dance-fueled rock aesthetic tinged with shadowy darkness. The band's influences, which range from At the Drive-In to Liars to The Cramps, are apparent but not overly obvious throughout.
Plague Vendor's live show has shifted as they've developed these new songs, too. They've swapped out shock value for raw vulnerability onstage and the four musicians aim to create the most sound and the most intensity with the least possible utility and equipment. Palpable tension comes from the sense that anything could happen, but mostly Plague Vendor is interested in simplicity and the sort of expressive nakedness that can come from stripping everything away. It's clear the band has sacrificed their formative don't-give-a-f@ck punk attitude for sincerity and gratitude, acknowledging the fans who've helped them arrive here now.
BLOODSWEAT invokes its own name as it unfurls, its songs edged with a sense of danger and vulnerability. It's the product of a band who have traveled far and whose travels have committed them even further to themselves. As you hear it, as its songs surge outward, it announces: This is who Plague Vendor is now.