Saturday, April 4, 2015

NEW MUSIC: One-Eyed Doll - "Witches"

A concept album is not the easiest trick to pull off.  The risk of sounding either pompously pretentious or awkwardly forced when attempting to tie an album's worth of material into a coherent narrative is extremely high, as nearly every prog-rock album of the mid-seventies demonstrated.   When the new One-Eyed Doll album, Witches, was announced some time back, I was thrilled - it had been way too long since the last album from my favorite current band (2012's Dirty); when word got out that it was to be a concept album telling the tale of the Salem witch trials, I admit to feeling an uneasy shudder. Kimberly and Jason are certainly adept storytellers in the single-song format, but could they create a story arc that both spanned an entire album and maintained the level of energy, creativity and cleverness that has been their hallmark?

The short answer, I'm pleased to report, is "Hell yes!"

Witches is in all ways wonderful.  The album swoops in with the frenetic attack of the opener, "Ember," then effortlessly downshifts to the hauntingly beautiful "Prayer" before revving up again for the concert-ready chant-along "Black in the Rye." That juxtaposition of crazed high-energy assault and low-key melancholy continues throughout the album, keeping you constantly spellbound through the finale, "The Ghosts of Gallows Hill."

It would have been easy to simply cast Kimberly as either an actual witch or one of the wrongly accused and make the album's narrative into a character-driven tale; smartly, they did not go that route.  Rather, she inhabits different roles in each song, reporting events from a number of points of view and never judging one against another.  Here she is being sent to her death, condemned as a witch, there she is leading the angry mob's demands for "More Weight" to be applied to the accused to determine guilt; now she is accusing another as the one who has "Afflicted" her, now she's presenting theories that bacterial infection from spoiled bread caused the hysteria that afflicted Salem. In the end, the listener must draw his or her own conclusions.

Musically, this is the most gothic One-Eyed Doll record yet - which is saying something for a band that sings about vampires and serial killers, and who has recorded in a church.  There is both soaring majesty and almost unbearable tension in each tune, and there is something about that banjo that is woven into the sonic tapestry that gilds it all with the perfect haunting edge.  As is often the case with One-Eyed Doll, it can be easy to forget that it's only two people making all this deeply layered and nuanced music.  Certainly the recording process allows for overdubs and production tricks, but those of us who have seen them live know they can blow the roof off any venue as well as much larger groups.

I am eager to hear how these new tracks will fit into One-Eyed Doll's live sets.  In fact, I will get my first chance tonight - they are playing in the Baltimore, MD area (technically Halethorpe, but close enough) at Fish Head Cantina with Cryptic Matter and Kamikaze Kupcakes.  If you're in the area, I hope to see you there!

Please enjoy a couple of my favorites from the album: the opener, "Ember," and a live performance of "Black in the Rye."  You can purchase Witches directly from the band or through