Before The Calm

The proven rock'n'roll method is to load up on arrogance, aim for a massive, public blowout, then carry on 'til they call the cops.

 While many top acts have entertained us thus, all that noise and fury can get tiresome. That's why Witness are so valuable. Their music hardly rocks at all. The lyrics never try to flag up attention. Humility rules. And once you get used to this sublimated style, the smallest detail takes on a world of significance.

Witness are like a bonsai tree in a huge, sky-shagging pine forest. Surely that's one reason why they came up with the title 'Before The Calm'. It's a zen thing, man. It's also a lovely and inspiring record. Just listen to 'My Own Old Song'. It starts with a murmur and builds, ever so gently, into a story of one man's desolate quest. A piano line arcs forlornly. A xylophone plinks. By the end, Gerard Starkie is practically raising his voice. He's that upset. You might already know the single 'Scars', with its beat-up rhythm, echoing DJ Shadow (or maybe Radiohead's 'Airbag'). It's a discourse on phoney personalities and the urge to connect with another human being. The idea of 'close approximations' is rejected. The potential lover wants the whole deal.

Listen closely and the startling lines emerge. Try the survivalist code on 'Freezing Over Morning', which sings the worried man blues with tremendous power. "Sometimes I stride like royalty", the boy muses, "while other times I crawl". You shiver and move on.

You hear the spectral voices of American Music Club, early REM (especially on 'Second Life') and Joy Division. This would tend to suggest that Witness are high-grade glum-merchants. But that's not really accurate, as there's an old-fashioned reliance on compassion here. In lesser hands, 'My Friend Will See Me Through' would sound trite. Actually, it's just fine.

Bands like Travis and Puressence are on a similar, vaporous trail, but Witness are well ahead. They've made an astonishing debut album; stripped of all affectation, daring to be understated when others would be tempted to hit the anthem button. This revolution will be internalised.

9/10

 

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