Eight tracks are all that’s needed by All Them Witches (Ben McLeod – guitar, bass, mellotron, percussion, Charles Michael Parks Jr. – vocals, bass, guitar, mellotron, percussion, loops, Robby Staebler – drums, congas, Allan Van Cleave – keyboards, organ, piano, mellotron) to make a powerful statement about living in 2017 on Sleeping Through the War.
Starting with “Bulls,” the album goes head-first into psychedelic territory with reverbed guitars and vocals while Parks sings about sleeping through not only the wars outside our borders, but also the ones on TV, the ones in our heads and homes, and the ones right next door. “I’m married to my boredom,” he sings. How many of us can relate to that, either in our own lives or the lives of our loved ones?
“Don’t Bring Me Coffee” is a hammering rocker that I think is about the proliferation of hipster consumers. I don’t know which of the Witches played bass on this track, but whoever did was trying to flatten the studio walls. “Bruce Lee” is as fast and bold as its namesake, and I love the space-rock guitar in it as Parker sings about trying to center himself after a bad relationship has ended, and not by his choice. The band almost ventures into stoner rock on the prime numbered “3-5-7,” and that’s all right with me. Staebler’s grooves are sweet, and Van Cleave’s keys are, as usual, excellent.
“Am I Going Up?” is a fine example (in the guitar riffs) of the Nashville blues influences All Them Witches adore. The song is about the uncertainty of death, and Parks wondering if he’s going to heaven and how long he’ll have to wait in the ground before he moves in either direction (or at all). “Alabaster” is about Parks’ childhood, how much things and the people have changed around him, and how much he is changing into them (“Every day they look more and more like me.”). The whole band grooves hard on this track and I’m sure it’s excellent live.
“Cowboy Kirk” might be the name of a childhood hero of Parks (“Love you like I love Cowboy Kirk,” he sings at the beginning.), but the person seems to be an allegory for Parks’ wishes to return to a simpler time. The song isn’t simple, that’s for sure. The guitars are layered on top of each other and I love how Staebler’s drums stay crisp throughout the tune.
The closer is “Internet,” a song about how people use what should be a magnificent invention for learning, art, and outreach to instead hide from reality and do Big Brother’s work for them. “All the moss of my childhood turned to eggshell while I wasn’t looking. If you’re asking me, I’ve got one thing to say: If I can’t live here, guess I’ll go live on the Internet,” Parks sings, verbally throwing ice water in our faces.
Most of us are sleeping through one war or another. It could be a literal one that we hope will just end if we don’t pay attention (i.e., Syria) or one we stopped caring about a long time ago and are just going through the motions of it by this point. It could be a war with a dream we refuse to chase or a trauma we refuse to confess. We have to wake up. We have to open our eyes and, yes, get off the Internet.
We need this record.
Keep your mind open.
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