Authentic rock music has always dealt in extremes. With notoriously small patience for all things temperate or graduated, the style’s impact is largely due to its constant juxtaposition of opposites. One particular stylistic derivation of this principle–minimal riffs delivered with maximal intensity–has gathered such historical momentum so as to imbed itself squarely in the standard rock formula.
The success of this particular approach has, in fact, been so total as to leave other potential derivations untouched within the mainstream and beyond. Today, however, thanks to the small but persistent lineage of peripheral experimenters, there has emerged a generation of rock artists with refreshingly little in the way of formal presupposition who explicitly challenge such formulas. Those that succeed demonstrate the fundamental understanding that contrast itself– rather than any particular brand or instance of contrast–fuels the drama of music. This insight is the legacy of innovation that has been persistently inveighing from the margins since rock’s inception.
Breathers vs. Drivers, the full-length release from Buffalo’s All of Them Witches, is just such an experiment, and one with particularly crisp results. The immediate textural approach is, in fact, a precise inversion of the aforementioned formula. Rather than minimal riffs delivered with maximal intensity, guitarist Phillip Freedenberg and drummer Cam Rogers deliver maximal riffs with minimal intensity. Intricate, quirky phrases are modestly finger tapped through an exposed, practically under-driven guitar tone– a simple shift that opens up a curious and compelling musical space.
This contrast of the minimal and maximal exists not only in the immediate visceral texture of the music, but also more broadly through its compositional form. Here, akin to bands like Hella, Lightning Bolt, or Battles, loop and repetition serve as a counterbalance against prog-rock’s constant threat of excess. Borrowing a lesson from IDM, All of Them Witches compartmentalize and repeat intricate morsels such that emergent from the micro-complexity of each tune is a macro-groove that pulses with surprisingly inviting ease.
Guitarist Phillip Freedenberg characterizes the band’s relation to the past by analogy to an old wartime parable in which a general explodes his own ship, removing the only hope for escape and redoubling his men’s commitment to the task at hand. Breathers vs. Drivers hasn’t blown up the ship it rode in on, but dismantled it and rearranged its parts. Through simple variation on an old design, All of Them Witches invented an unlikely new vehicle– and happily, the contraption works.
Review byJohn Tiberio