Glistening waterfalls crash just like honey through the second single on RACES’ first full-length, Year of the Witch. A hangover from last November’s introductory EP of the same name, “Big Broom” was written by 23 year-old singer Wade Ryff in his parents’ bathroom on the heels of a terrible break-up and at the edge of a bleak horizon that can only be reflected in your folks’ tiles. Yet the amplified hush and rush cool the darkness down, and beneath the surface hovers the plaintive and promising lyric: “All my debts and all my dreams will one day be swept clean.” More than the usual post-break-up moping or the best soundtrack to your spring cleaning, “Big Broom” is the theme song for that Giant Swiffer in the Sky, better known as the passing of time.
Year of the Witch is an album that truly focuses on the time it spends with you. Framed by dreams and dead ends, bouncing between visions of the past and the future like a bowling ball on a bumper lane, RACES really tackle the middle, the non-present of the present. The bouncing itself.
Throughout the record, there’s an intangibility that isn’t quite nostalgia or a vision of what’s to come. It’s those poetic moments of lonely silence, draped in thought, where time seems to stop or slip by meaninglessly – no past, no future, just you and your singular cigarette burning down in a back alley stroll, the world on pause and mind moving slow.
Yet nothing weighs down Year of the Witch. Ryff & Co. hit the bottom with a gleeful bounce into an album where even the majority of the ballads are struck through with a resonant rebirth, like the Edward Sharpe-esque “All For You.” Backed by punching drums and pretty oh-woah-ohs, along with Ryff’s vaguely familiar vocal twang, Year of the Witch is that rare combination of soul-wrenching lyrics and energized rhythm, tied up so simply it seems obvious.
“Lies” is perhaps the most dramatic number, teeming with unendingly gorgeous, dreamy guitar notes, a churning, tough rhythm, buried back-up vocals, and a right-on story of a split-up. The expert musicianship of the California sextet displayed here is mind-blowing, especially considering that the band formed out of a Fleetwood Mac-style incestuous convenience, with many members having dated each other, all living in the same devil town and moving in the same circles.
Perhaps born of that unspoken intimacy, RACES’ debut is a powerfully tenacious effort. Like a mellow phoenix rising from the ashes, Year of the Witch finds the young but wizened members of RACES not just wallowing in the pause between past and purpose, but commemorating it. The album catches that moment when the strings that bind snap, and everything is at once terrifyingly distant and suddenly possible – a moment that, unacknowledged, will easily pass without reflection, without the chance to interpret what was or what could be into actuality. Thank god RACES are here to do the hard work for us.