It’s a testament to The Cave Singers’ good sense and taste that No Witch, the group’s third album, is a tightly controlled, competent set of folk songs. The problem is, that’s the last thing these songs need. Measured, steady, and focused more on finger-picked drones than chord changes, No Witch is a perfect canvas on which leader Pete Quirk and crew totally could have gone off. Instead, they hold the line: Tracks like “Falls” and “Distant Sures” coast on go-nowhere arrangements and Quirk’s best impression of a post-op Stevie Nicks, a mannered, monotonous grunt that flattens the fact that he’s sporadically an inspired lyricist. Even when things threaten to cook, the album’s occasional burps of distortion, Eastern percussion, melodica, tent-revival fervor, and John Cale-esque viola only highlight just how strained yet restrained the whole thing is. The disc’s most ironic drawback, though, is its rich, sumptuous production. Randall Dunn, who’s recorded far heavier bands such as Boris and Sunn O))), adds a rounded, bottom-heavy lushness to the otherwise flimsy material that hints at a mystique the jams are mostly unable to deliver. As its title implies, No Witch is missing something: Where magic and a little evil ought to dwell, there’s workmanship dressed up in wizard’s robes.
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