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Review: RACES - Year Of The Witch

You’d think that a band that used to be named Black Jesus would have an alluring origin story. Not so with RACES, which began when frontman Wade Ryff needed a supporting cast for a one-time solo gig. Ryff called some of his buddies who he thought would be fun to play with: a few former bandmates, a woman he met at a record store, and a friend who always killed at karaoke. The band clicked that night and decided to stay together, racking up gigs and eventually getting enough material for an LP. They turned to a Kickstarter campaign and successfully financed the record, but Frenchkiss swooped in and inked the band just after they received full funding. After nearly a year’s wait, the Kickstarter backers finally have their prize in Year Of The Witch. I doubt that they minded the wait.

The album, released on March 28, expands on the tight sound laid out on the Big Broom EP. Ryff’s songwriting affords nothing superfluous and the production perfectly blends layers of interplaying guitars, lush vocal harmonies, and tasteful string arrangements. Lyrically, the album revolves around Ryff’s recent experiences with heartbreak. On the title track, Ryff croons, “While you try to understand / something pulls you by the hand / and leads you down the road of solitude.” Earlier, on “Big Broom”, he sings, “If love wears me down / if it all goes down again / know that will not be the end / I’ll still be just a heart that bleeds.” No wonder the press release claims Ryff’s inspiration was “a real-life witch” (or that Ryff uses a much harsher word to describe the witch on the commentary version of the album).

That’s not to say this is a particularly depressing or overly introspective album. On the contrary, it’s bouncy, driving and upbeat. “Lover, Lover, Lover,” an infectious bonus track, might be the best song on the album—it’s certainly the one that will get stuck in your head the most easily. And “Don’t be Cruel” thrusts the female singers in the band into the foreground, allowing Ryff to break out of heartsick lover mode and turn the tables on himself by imagining how his girlfriends see him. The ladies shine on this track, and hopefully RACES finds a way to feature them more in the future. For now, though, Ryff’s trials and tribulations on this phenomenal debut are more than enough to satisfy.

 

By Alex Kapelman

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